Successful Aging: We’re in this together
We at the Post Independent are happy about the response to the Adventures in Aging Symposium the Post Independent and partners are holding Saturday, March 5, at Carbondale’s Third Street Center.
Many people have registered in pairs — married couples or a couple of friends — and although that’s not surprising, it reminded me how much humans enjoy doing things together. Taking that a step further, we can remind ourselves how important it is to approach challenges together.
To characterize aging well as a challenge does not depart from the ongoing positive tone of this column or the positive intention of Adventures in Aging. Other stages of life are also challenging — remember your or your children’s adolescence? Individually and culturally, though, we think of aging differently because it means we’re getting ever closer to the exit door.
So let’s admit that and move on. Being positive about aging does not mean denial; it means we approach it like we approach other changes. We educate ourselves. We try new things. We value others’ experience as well as our own. We have fun. And we do it together.
I discussed the importance of togetherness at the family and friendship level in my April 2015 column “How to avoid emotional predators that age us” and drew on wisdom from some of my favorite health researchers and writers.
From Dr. George E. Vaillant’s “Aging Well: Surprising Guideposts to a Happier Life From the Landmark Harvard Study of Adult Development”:
• It is not the bad things that happen to us that doom us; it is the good people who happen to us at any age who facilitate enjoyable old age.
• Healing relationships are facilitated by a capacity for gratitude, for forgiveness and for taking people inside. (By this metaphor I mean becoming eternally enriched by loving a particular person.)
• A good marriage at age 50 predicted positive aging at 80. But surprisingly, low cholesterol levels at age 50 did not.
• Learning to play and create after retirement and learning to gain younger friends as we lose older ones add more to life’s enjoyment than retirement income.
After developing the first scientifically proven program for preventing and reversing heart disease with lifestyle modification, Dr. Dean Ornish turned his focus to our “cultural epidemic of spiritual heart disease: loneliness, isolation, alienation and depression.” With the same scientific rigor he applied to developing programs for physical heart disease, Ornish learned that nothing in medicine “has a greater impact on our survival than the healing power of love and intimacy.”
Some of the statistics might be surprising, but few would argue that human connection and intimacy are necessary for survival. We feel it in our bones.
Can we take that feeling — that knowledge — to the next level and apply it to aging well at the community level and beyond?
Bob Semro, health policy analyst at Colorado’s Bell Policy Center, has some scary statistics for anyone who thinks we are too positive about aging. He outlines effects the impending demographic shift will have on our communities, even in Colorado, a relatively young state:
• By 2030, Colorado’s 65-plus population will reach 1,242,000 people, compared with 550,000 in 2010.
• By 2040, Colorado’s 65-plus population will reach 1,475,000 and will make up 19 percent of the state’s total.
• The proportion of workers versus nonworkers in Colorado will fall from 68 percent to 59 percent between 2010 and 2040.
See Semro’s presentation at http://tinyurl.com/SemroPreso.
This population shift will challenge public and private resources in ways most of us have not considered. We can, as Semro fears, let these realities make us fight over limited resources instead of cooperating to find solutions. Or we can find the best we all have to offer and develop new ways of doing things: aging in place, defining work differently and much more.
So join us for Adventures in Aging. You will get good advice on health and happiness and learn about community resources for meeting the challenges of this life phase. You may also find a new appreciation for how important love and intimacy are to successful second and third acts of life. And you may become part of a bigger movement: All of us — individuals, families and the broader society — can thrive through challenging times if we act like we’re in this together.
Angelyn Frankenberg is a wellness coach and writer living in Carbondale. Her column appears monthly.
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