By Joy Loverde
Everybody ages differently. Take a look around and see it for yourself. You may have read about (or even know personally) older adults who run marathons, and at the same time have witnessed people the same age who use the assistance of a cane to get around.
It’s true that genetic makeup plays a role in the aging process (only 30% by the way according to Drs. Kahn and Rowe, co-authors of Successful Aging). In addition to what we inherit from Mom and Dad, how we age is also determined by an accumulation of life experiences and belief systems.
Just like anyone at any age, no two elderly people are alike. Some older adults welcome new challenges and are open to the possibility of learning new things. On the other side of the fence are people who shy away from trying anything “different.” Some people are quite social and eagerly reach out to others and help those in need. Others isolate themselves, day after day, and make little if no contact with the rest of the world.
Fortunately, we don’t have to go very far to find there are many fine examples of role models who continuously enriched their lives as they aged. Benjamin Franklin helped to write the U.S. Constitution at 81. Albert Schweitzer was running a hospital in Africa at 89. Coco Chanel was at the helm of her design firm at 85. Comedian George Burns worked into his 90’s. Giuseppe Verdi wrote the opera Falstaff in his late 70s. Golda Meir worked up to 20 hours a day in her late 70s. Helena Rubinstein led her company until age 94. Winston Churchill wrote History of the English-Speaking Peoples at 82. Pablo Picasso painted into his 90s. The list is long, and growing.
What's Age For Anyway? Elderly older people tell me that the fear of dying has been replaced by the fear of living too long, and consequently, feeling useless and becoming a burden on others. Encouraging your aging parents to participate in simple activities may be just what they need to feel good again about life and creating meaning and purpose. Ultimately, the more involved our parents are with life, the less they will depend on us for physical fulfillment and emotional support.