I have written before about the need to dispel many of the harmful stereotypes abound ageing. Research shows that when people are asked what image comes to mind when prompted by words like old person, ageing, or senior citizen they imagine lonely, bent, chronically ill and dependent people. This is not a true representation of reality when many people are enjoying healthy, fulfilling and outgoing later years. Not only do such images have an effect on the way seniors are treated by society but they also affect our OWN expectations and fears about ageing. Other research is showing that this can become a self-fulfilling prophecy and we become what we anticipate and fear. This is why it is important to challenge our own thinking and LANGUAGE – no more jokes at our own expense about our memories or ‘senior moments’ – young people forget things too and we must change our mindset to one of expecting and working towards a positive third age.
One of the ways in which we can change our outlook for the better is to take note and share news about positive role models. There are numerous examples of older people doing things which would be incredible at any age, never mind as elders. Some of these stories amaze me, especially those about high performing senior athletes, though their achievements can also be too far out of my own reach, which some of us might find disheartening. If you find these ‘super-agers’ daunting there are plenty more positive ageing role models who are not running marathons.
America’s Supreme Court Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg is 85 and said to be ‘the poster woman for thriving whilst ageing’. She DOES do a gym workout with a trainer twice a week but is mostly admired for her attitude to ageing and life, her can-do outlook, and mental agility. She is a ‘strong presence’ in the court, often the voice of reason and dissent, standing up for women’s issues. But it is her mindset of keeping up a demanding job at 85 and not withdrawing from society that sets her apart as a role model for successful ageing. Judge Bader Ginsburg ‘doesn’t buy into the self-fulfilling prophecy that age means an inevitable decline in both our physical and mental abilities’ (thriveglobal.com 14 January 2019). You don’t need to be a Supreme Court Judge to expect to be involved in your community and stay engaged in life, volunteering and club membership are perfect examples.
Even more down-to-earth role models can be found all around us. I loved the story of 70 year Pat Smith (The Times 14 January 2019) who resolved to spend a year clearing beaches of plastic and rubbish. She set out to clean up one beach a week and spent 2018 doing just that. Armed with rubber gloves, a litter picker and a sack she has cleared 52 beaches in the British South West. ‘I’m driven to try to protect our living planet for my children and grandchildren’ she said ‘and I will continue to do everything in my power to achieve that.’ I loved that she is determined not to stop ‘despite occasionally being mistaken for someone doing community service punishment’! I don’t think ‘I am too old to . . . ‘ comes into her vocabulary, do you?
It’s all in the ATTITUDE, people. Keep believing that decline is NOT inevitable, then open your heart to activating your mind and body to the best of your ability and you will age as well as you can.