What Matters Beyond the Physical Details of Your Life
Dealing with Aging
Preparing mentally, and in other ways, for old age
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Given the alternative, most of us hope to live into old age. But what will we find there, and how will we cope with it?
In our culture of youth, aging has come to have almost entirely negative connotations. But there are many positive aspects to aging, and since that’s the territory we’re heading into, perhaps we should try to focus more on those than we might otherwise tend to do.
At the same time, there are legitimately negative aspects to aging. But we can understand, prepare for, and thereby to some extent minimize those aspects.
And in cases where aging does result in serious problems for ourselves or for others who care about us, or affects people we feel obliged to help, there are many resources available to assist us in coping.
Dealing with Aging relates to other areas of Spirit:
- Beliefs and principles, because older age is the stage of life in which our wisdom reaches its peak, which enables us to review, re-affirm, or change our beliefs with more insight and confidence than we could in younger years. And because those beliefs in turn should help sustain us through the aging process.
- The meaning of life, because aging tests our sense of the meaning of our lives, while a strong sense of meaning and purpose helps us cope with aging.
- Dealing with death, because death is the natural and ultimately unavoidable outcome of aging.
- Spiritual practices, because these can often gain in importance in our older years, and because they can help us come to grips with aging.
Dealing with Aging relates to other areas besides Spirit:
- Purpose, because the purposeful activities we pursue, especially our work and our avocations, will need to change as we age, and we may ultimately need to re-define what kinds of activities are meaningful to us.
- Love, because aging changes our relationships with others. And because the longer we live, the more relationships get dissolved by illness, distance, or death.
- Avocation, because aging may limit our opportunities to participate in favored activities, requiring that we find substitutes that still engage and challenge us.
- Security, because aging changes the way we want, need, or are able to spend money, and may limit our housing options.
- Health, because aging always brings health changes with it, and it also affects the steps we should take to maintain our health.
Dealing with Aging Sub-Topics and Resources
There is a great deal to be said on these topics, so the books rather than the websites are able to say it most comprehensively, though the free website sources also offer worthwhile help in specific areas.
- Positive views of aging: Is aging a good or bad thing? How do we adopt a positive attitude toward it – not to fool ourselves into feeling better, but to actually make our lives both longer and more rewarding?
- Free resources:
- “Centenarians' Positive Attitude Linked to Long Life,” a June 5, 2012 report from ABC News, describes one of the newer studies (there have been others) that indicate a strong link between a positive attitude and longer life (rating = A-).
- “Benefits of Aging”, from American Aging Research, summarizes some of the good points of growing older (rating = A-).
- “ChangingAging.org” is the website of Dr. Bill Thomas, co-founder of the “Eden Alternative” in long-term care. This site takes a novel and positive view of many aspects of aging, including some that tend to get mostly negative attention (rating = A). Another very good site is “Second Journey”, which, in addition to a variety of other spiritually relevant content, posts an engaging and inspiring quarterly newsletter called Itineraries (rating = A).
- “Aging and Attitude”, from ThirdAge,com, offers a variety of articles and videos on developing and maintaining a positive attitude toward aging (rating = A-).
- “Oh My Aging Funny Bone”, from Senior Resource.com, helps you take an important first step: being able to laugh about aging. This site offers witty and humorous quotations, comments, and jokes (rating = A-).
- Other resources:
- The Creative Age: Awakening Human Potential in the Second Half of Life, by Gene D. Cohen – a classic work (a little scholarly in places, but informative, instructive and inspirational throughout) on the importance of creativity, and how we can continue to be creative as we age (rating = A). See also Cohen’s The Mature Mind: The Positive Power of the Aging Brain.
- The Upside of Aging: How Long Life Is Changing the World of Health, Work, Innovation, Policy and Purpose, by Paul Irving, offers essays from prominent thinkers, researchers and leaders on topics reflecting the changes in our experience and perception of aging (rating = A).
- AgeEsteeem: Growing a Positive Attitude Toward Aging, by Bonnie Lou Fatio, argues that it is how we feel about ourselves in relation to our age that governs our well-being, and so she promotes a positive image of age, emphasizing confidence and self-esteem, written in easily digestible short sections. (rating = A-).
- Audacious Aging: Eldership As a Revolutionary Endeavor, edited by Stephanie Marohn, contains essays by celebrities and by scholars, offering information and inspiration about aging with energy and daring. (rating = A-).
- Splendid Seniors, by Jack Adler, illustrates the potential that we still have in old age by providing examples of 52 famous people, from Sophocles to Dr. Spock, who made major achievements in their elder years. (rating = B+).
- See also:
- Preparing for aging: How can we arrange our lives so that the natural effects of aging will cause minimum disruption to ourselves and others?
- Free resources:
- “Purpose, Potential, and Productivity in Later Life” summarizes results from the 21st Century Retirement Study of factors that promote these positive attributes. Among the many helpful observations and ideas presented is the “Social Portfolio,” a concept developed by Gene D. Cohen (the primary author of this study), which helps us prepare for loss of physical mobility and/or social connections by helping us identify different kinds of interests to develop before we reach our older years (rating = A).
- “The Psychology of Aging” page from Trinity University in San Antonio raises in outline form many of the key mental and emotional issues related to aging, and provides links to more detailed sources of information (rating = A-).
- “Build Your Safety Circle Now, Before You Need It,” by Liz Taylor of the Seattle Times, describes how to build a support network while you are still young enough not to need it, so it’s there when you do need it (rating = A-).
- Other resources:
- Aging Well: Surprising Guideposts to a Happier Life from the Landmark Harvard Study of Adult Development, by George Vaillant, uses data from decades-long studies of groups of men and women to identify the factors that make for aging well, and those that interfere with successful aging. (rating = A+).
- Successful Aging, by John Wallis Rowe and Robert L. Kahn. Rowe and Kahn rely on research (new at the time, now somewhat dated but still mostly pertinent) indicating that the influence of genetics shrinks proportionately as you get older, while social and physical habits become increasingly integral to mental and physical health. This means you have a lot to say about what kind of old age you will have, and they explain what steps you should be taking ahead of time (rating = A).
- Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life, by Richard Rohr, emphasizes how suffering and loss in aging can be an invaluable part of our spiritual journey and be turned to positive account, and how we can use the first half of life to ready ourselves for this later advancement (rating = A).
- Successful Cognitive and Emotional Aging, by Colin A. Depp and Dilip V. Jeste, delves more into the research, so this is a bit tougher read. But it takes a highly positive approach, focusing on prevention and intervention, and summarizing ways people can promote mental and emotional health. (rating = A).
- See also:
The “Free” and “Other” references listed below deal mainly with the social, emotional and related “inner” aspects of aging. The “See also” links connect you with resources to health, housing, financial, and caregiving issues.
- Free resources:
- “The Center for Successful Aging” at the University of California / Fullerton offers a website with information about the Center's own research and programs, plus helpful links to other resources (rating = A).
- The Positive Aging Newsletter, from the Taos Institute, is a bi-monthly electronic newsletter that brings to light resources – from scientific research on aging, gerontology practices, and daily life – that contribute to an appreciation of the aging process. Originally intended for care professionals, it is now reaching an increasing audience of lay readers (rating = A+).
- “The Trouble with Sucessful Aging,” is a review by Drew Leder of Rowe and Kahn's book (Successful Aging) listed in the section just above, in which Leder appreciates the importance of a vigorous approach to aging, but argues that “spiritual aging,” in which we learn to befriend the inevitable, is even better (rating = A-).
- Other resources:
- Live Smart After 50!, by the Life Planning Network, is one of the best books available on how to deal with the multitudinous aspects of aging (rating = A+).
- Living Agelessly: Answers to Your Most Common Questions About Aging Gracefully, by Linda Altoonian, offers both wise insights and smart practical advice on hundreds of issues, small and large, that come up during aging. Strongly recommended (rating = A+).
- The Art of Growing Old: Aging with Grace, by Marie de Hennezel, argues that refusing to age and move forward in life is actually what makes us become old, and discusses how to embrace everything aging presents to us (rating = A).
- Seven Strategies for Positive Aging, by Robert D. Hill, provides practical strategies for developing and maintaining a healthy, productive attitude and lifestyle, despite the diminishment that aging brings in physical and mental abilities (rating = A, despite an intermittently too-academic tone).
- The Power of Positive Aging, by Donna Devall, uses Devall’s experience working with older people and their families to show how it is possible to approach old age with a positive, even embracing attitude (rating = A).
- From Age-ing to Sage-ing: A Profound New Vision of Growing Older, by Zalman Schachter-Shalomi and Ronald S. Miller, discusses how elders can make the most of aging by becoming mentors who promote wisdom and spirituality in others, as well as in themselves. Useful, practical exercises are included (rating = A).
- See also:
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