Thoughts on Ageing
I was reading a post from Smart living 365 which focused on a review of a book, by Ann Jenkins, the CEO of AARP, called Disrupt Aging—A Bold New Path To Living Your Best Life At Any Age. As part of the post, the following 10 myths were put forward as a reason why society sees ageing as an issue. The issues raised by the post may be true and have to be addressed.
The problem I have with these statements is that they make broad statements about a group of people which are false. Try an experiment as you read each of the myths, substitute the word "women" or the word "Black" or whatever minority group you can think of, where the word ageing is placed. We have to reject myths that stereotype any group because it is wrong. However, as more Boomers retire and continue to enjoy life to the fullest as do the people I work with, these myths will slowly fade into distant memory.
To be fair, and I have talked about this before I flunked retirement after three months and decided to go back to work part time not because I had to but because I love to work. While I was working part time, I started to focus on finding meaning in things that I did to help people. I am lucky to say I found it, first through my work at SHARE Family Services and now in my role as a Workshop Facilitator on senior issues.
I focus on mature adults and seniors and helping them understand what a healthy and active ageing looks like. Over the last two years of doing these workshops, I have met with over 1,800 seniors that I had not met before, and I listened to what they have to say and what they think is important. So, I am going to address the 10 myths from my understanding of these issues as seen by seniors that I interact with on a weekly basis as to why these ways of thinking of ageing are out-dated. (My thoughts are in Italics)
Society tends to collectively believe that ageing is a huge societal problem and older people are seen as a burden or mostly a problem that needs to be fixed. Seniors don’t think we are a problem, we are too busy building or rebuilding, relationships with family, pursuing our hobbies, meeting with old friends, working part-time or travelling to worry about how society sees us. No senior I have met see themselves as a burden, we all believe we are contributing to our society.
While we do share responsibility for certain parts of ageing like taking good care of our health and our finances—the choices, options, and abilities are not equal for everyone. Depending upon our sex, our race, our education, and our socioeconomics, we either have advantages or disadvantages that should be considered. This is an interesting point, the seniors I have met, believe that at every age, the individual has responsibility for their health, their finances and choices. We know that options and abilities are not the same for everyone, but we understand that this is true no matter your age.
The best we can hope for as we age is a life of ease, comfort, reasonably good health (and a little entertainment) while we wait out the remainder of our lives. This is so far from the reality of the people I meet and interact with it is laughable. I am not sure if there are many seniors that believe this nonsense. For the seniors I meet with, life is about learning new things, taking new adventures and sharing stories and life with liked minded souls.
Getting older is all about increasing decline and dependency. Seniors are living longer, working longer, and are healthier longer. An average 70-year-old is in as good as shape as a 50-year-old was 30 years ago. We fight to maintain our independence and we value our ability to stay independent.
We must do everything we can to be young, or at least seen as young because only the young have something valuable to offer the world.
The men and women I talk to on a regular basis, are young, young at heart. They are not as concerned about being seen as young and understand that with age comes wisdom we lacked when we were young. Some segments of society and media like to think that all seniors want to be young, but the people I meet with value their age.
We tend to blame most of our age-related limitations on getting older when many of those limitations actually come from an environment and culture that was designed to encourage and support the young. Seniors understand that we have political muscle. Although we do not see many issues with the same view, some of us are Conservative and some of us are Liberal we understand that politicians know we vote. Issues that affect us are taken seriously by our elected officials or they may get thrown out of office. Media portrays seniors as a group that wants to stay young, but Boomers have always accepted the realities of whatever age we are.
Seniors who work are taking jobs away from young people and adding nothing to the economy.
I and many of the people I meet continued to work while after we retired, not because we had to but because we wanted to and we realized that our skill sets were in demand. Many of the positions that seniors fill would be left vacant if we were not filling them. There is a myth we are taking away jobs from the young which is not true.
Instead of seeing all of life as a continuous process of growth and development, many of us consider ageing as either having “arrived” or over the hill. I am not sure which group of people think this, maybe some youngsters that are daydreaming about retirement. None of the people I meet with, see being retired as “over the hill”, they are too busy growing and developing, going on trips, taking courses reading new books, volunteering or going to the theatre. I think this myth goes back at least two or three generations, when people retired and died soon after, because of health issues.
We stop celebrating the achievements and milestones of a growing and evolving human once we retire as though nothing worthwhile is occurring. The people I meet love any reason to celebrate, to mark the milestones of growing and evolving as people. Boomers always loved any reason to party, and we continue to do so.
Once we retire or consider ourselves a senior, we often stop planning who we want to become in the days ahead—Jenkins calls that “mindless ageing.” I have yet to meet any senior that has stopped planning, most of the people have goals, that focus on their needs. Now I admit that I only meet people who are motivated to learn, and who come to our workshops on Healthy Ageing, but I suspect that they are a representative sample of my cohorts. Many people do not come to a workshop because they are too busy. Go to your local Senior or Community Center any day of the week, and you will see a lot of people engaged, active and excited about what they are doing. There are, of course, older people who don’t have goals and don’t plan, but when I was in my 20’s I met people who did not plan and who did not focus on what they could become. We have to stop thinking about these issues as senior issues they are issues for all ages.