How to age successfully and to enjoy in later life



How can older people age more successfully?

With aging come inevitable vulnerabilities and specific deterioration of certain systems and functions. Aging also brings with it valuable assets as a result of relationships, experiences, and an appreciation of one’s inherent capabilities. These strengths are lifelines: the positive forces that can help people to age successfully, to cope better, and to enjoy themselves despite the deterioration aspects of later life.

Brief or enduring relationships of the past and those that begin in or continue into late life are crucial supports, challenging comradeship and great loves that are part, in memories or in reality, of getting older. For most people, relationships with significant others (including pets) of the past and present enrich life in ways that might not be fully appreciated, even by those who have experienced them. Some of these relationships can start only in younger days; others can be developed and nurtured later in ways that were not possible before. They are a valuable part of our individual histories, and they become a resource, both in memory and in reality, on which to draw in late life.


Life experiences

The older person has had experiences that are too numerous to count. Most are mundane and trivial, but some are memorable and a few are unforgettable, even into very late life. They are often linked to special relationships. They form a second aspect of lifelines and represent a part of the self that can be called upon throughout life, and especially in the later years. Everyone cleaned the outside of their houses and dressed up in best clothes for the special occasion. Religious experiences and traditions, for those who have them, and an inner sense of spirituality provide a feeling of a great fellowship and support in difficult times. Experiences of various kinds have a sustaining value and are a reminder of having coped with hard times and enjoyed the good ones. We can continue to do so if we properly value the experiences of our lifetime and attempt to use them to influence the present and future.

In addition to personal life experiences, people are enriched by the world and local events through which they live. They become part of the individual experience and also a generally shared history. Our lives through which we struggled, coped, or celebrated. These events became parts of the people who experienced the contemporary pain and/or drama of those events and offer perspectives of self and others quite different from those who read about them in books or even study them intensely.

Long-standing individual personality characteristics change very little with normal aging.  Old people are not bitter any more than young people are irresponsible. People seem to age with many of the lifelong personality characteristics they possessed earlier, although times of great stress might temporarily affect their expression. Inherent capabilities and personality qualities are the most often forgotten or denied aspects of the lifelines of older people, and yet they are the most durable. They are part of the core of our being and are not subject to the diminished memory of which so many complain. They are assets to be highly valued because they can be called up repeatedly while facing the variable circumstances of aging.

Among the most crucial personality characteristics at any age, but in the later years, in particular, is the capacity for hope and optimism. It greatly colors one’s view of life and is a powerful asset in surviving stresses, traumas, and tragedies of life, from adolescence through later life. Hope implies believing that one has the will and the means to accomplish tasks and goals, despite obstacles. People who are pessimistic and have little hope are more vulnerable to being overwhelmed by even the relatively minor and inevitable stresses of daily life, from medical illness to leaky roofs and broken-down cars. In the later years, the small stresses can add up, until they seem exaggerated, unmanageable, or even devastating. Sometimes people can be reminded of their inherent capacity for hope and optimism, which had been evident earlier in their lives. For those in whom there is little evidence of past hopefulness, counseling can be helpful to assess current stresses more realistically and to see future situations with a more optimistic, or at least less pessimistic, view. Having a more hopeful outlook generally serves one not only in the immediate situation but as a model for later and possibly more significant stresses.

Too often older adults who are faced with multiple losses, medical illness, disability, and everyday stresses that everyone encounters fail to focus on and use these lifelines-the vast personal assets of relationships, experiences, and inherent capabilities they have established over the years. In contrast to the deterioration of aging, the lifelines are the other side of the ledger: the positive forces that can and must be drawn on in the aging process. They are proof of strengths older adults have possessed and probably still do; they are evidence of the ability to cope and enjoy and must not be forgotten or denied; they are resources and supports, in fact and in spirit, to muster and maintain.

Posted by Carol Hudgens - May 26, 2013 at 4:17 pm