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Senior Citizen's Guide

Aging Is Mandatory—Growing Old Is Not!

Enjoy old age! Embrace aging! In our youth focused culture, most people would think that those remarks are totally crazy! Who in their right mind wants to get old? However, research, as well as my own work as a psychologist serving elders, suggests that growing older doesn't always have to be a negative experience. There is a lot to celebrate about aging. Like a fine wine, aging can help us mellow and develop our tastes for appreciating the finer things in life. Slowing down can allow us to smell the roses and embrace the joy that is inherent in life.

Certain factors can assist us in acquiring a positive approach to aging. Having good health is, of course, important if we want to stay active. Attending to our medical needs, getting regular check-ups, and taking medication the way it's prescribed are all critical factors in aging well. Nevertheless, lifestyle issues are also extremely important. One of my patients is an 83-year-old woman residing in a retirement community and a superb role model for aging well. She still takes the subway into Boston to get her hair done and to shop, and as a former entertainer, she plays the piano and sings for events both at the retirement community and her church. "I tell people that they make their own sickness. Their lifestyles...they don't eat right, they are overweight, and they don't exercise," she says. She lives in a six-floor complex and frequently can be seen walking the long hallways for her daily exercise.

One's attitude about aging and life in general is critical to happiness and adaptation to circumstances. There are many myths about aging, but recent research has suggested that many adults are happier and better adjusted in their senior years than when they were younger. Freedom from child rearing, work, and the responsibilities of the middle years allows seniors to sample the good life. Youthful issues of low self esteem and confidence often fade away since older adults have often experienced successes and mastered hobbies and other activities.

Many of my clients mention that a strong belief system and faith, separate from any specific religion, have been most powerful coping strategy. Having a good support system of family and/or friends is also important. Having a pal you can share with and lean on takes away some of life's burdens. Another strong coping device is a sense of humor. Being able to laugh at oneself and the world and not taking things so seriously can protect us from the normal stresses of life. Laughter is a great healing agent and can also protect us from depression. "Laugh your troubles away" can be sound advice!

Focusing on positive memories and factors has also been proven to aid in happiness. Some studies have suggested that people who find the good in situations, even tragedies, are happier and better adjusted. This advice also applies to getting older. Another woman I've worked with, in her 70's and with a lifetime of medical problems, says, "As you get older, you have to focus on what you can do rather than what you can't do." That's the epitome of a positive attitude! We all have regrets, but dwelling on the past and what could have been will only lead to sadness. It's better to focus on today and embrace our blessings. An older gentleman I know says, "Each day, I awaken to a new day and am excited to see what it will bring. I'd like to live to 100 because I don't want to miss anything that might happen."

Yes, physical maladies may hinder our ability to do certain activities, but maintaining a constructive, problem solving attitude will allow us to continue to embrace the joys of living. To quote that well known grass roots philosopher, Satchel Paige, "You don't stop playing because you're growing old. You grow old because you stop playing." So, keep playing, keep moving, keep loving, and keep laughing. Embrace aging!

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