Q. I was in a focus group of women in their 60s who indicated that they were afraid of growing old. As a band member, I feel the same. Our fear was about illness, physical limitations, addiction, dementia, lack of finances and more. I guess we are afraid of old age. What do you think about this? LG
Fear of aging is common according to an online survey commissioned by Pfizer. Among more than 2,000 participants, 87% had at least one fear of aging. Their biggest concern was declining physical abilities, followed by equal concerns about lack of money and chronic illness, with a slightly lower percentage expressing fear of dying.
For a perspective on aging, here are some facts:
• Although some decline in health and functioning is inevitable, it is possible to live long and be healthy.
• Older people tend to be happier later in life than in midlife.
• The belief that we reach our peak in middle age and from there it’s downhill is outdated. (US News and World Report January 20, 2022).
• Older people report that their health is good or excellent because they can still do the things that are most important to them.
• Mental health actually improves with age.
Implementing successful aging strategies can counteract some of the fears associated with aging. Ruben Castaneda, journalist selected to participate in the Journalists in Aging Fellowship Program, suggested six strategies based on interviews with experts in his January 20, 2022 article for US News and World Report. I added additional comments.
Don’t be limited by your age: Keep doing the activities you enjoy, while adapting to changes in your body and endurance. If you like tennis, consider playing doubles rather than singles. Also, don’t feel too old to do something new like write a book, play a new sport, or go back to school. Take reasonable risks and know that it’s okay to be less than excellent. Creativity has no age limit.
Keep learning and growing: We know that learning something new creates new neural pathways in our brain. Consider exploring a new hobby, a encore career, learning a new language, or playing a musical instrument. Curiosity is an element of successful aging that drives continued growth.
Eat healthy : As metabolism slows with age, we need to be aware of calorie intake and balance it with exercise. Learn about the Mediterranean diet which emphasizes fruits, vegetables and whole grains; consider a plant-based diet. Also pay attention to the consumption of salt and sugar. For dietary recommendations, go to https://www.bluezones.com/recipes/food-guidelines/ and read the Southern California News Group Column by Registered Nutritionist, LeeAnn Weintraub.
Exercise: We know that exercise builds muscle strength, improves bone density, improves cognition and can lengthen telomeres, the caps at the end of DNA strands. Longer telomeres are considered a plus for reduce age-related diseases. And don’t forget to adapt. If running no longer works, consider walking the recommended 150 minutes per week. We know that physical exercise slows down the normal aging process.
Stay logged in: This means with long-standing relationships as well as building new relationships. These can happen through volunteering, participating in a faith-based organization, mentoring young people and more. Staying connected may require taking the initiative. We’ve all had the conversation, “Let’s get together someday.” We need to make these “meeting moments” happen.
Adapt to losses: This can be the most difficult. We may lose a loved one, some short-term memories, or simply become more tired as we get older. Adaptation and the search for substitutes are essential to counteract some of these fears of aging. How we might cope with losses might be a topic of conversation with friends, family, or in a discussion group. Just answering a “what if” might ease some of the age-related fears.
Also we can’t forget sleep: The National Institute of Health reports that people in their 50s and 60s who slept six hours or less were at higher risk of developing dementia. Those who rested less each night were 30% more likely to be diagnosed with dementia than those who slept seven hours.
So what’s the message? We can address some of the fears of aging by educating ourselves and adopting known actions and behaviors to improve our functioning and independence. Knowing that we are all mortal is a good reminder to live a life that embraces the gift of time..
Thanks LG for your candid question which I believe others are considering. Stay well, consider taking steps to lessen these fears, and be kind to yourself and others.
Helen Dennis is a nationally recognized leader on aging, employment, and new retirement issues with academic, corporate, and nonprofit experience. Contact Helen with your questions and comments at Helendenn@gmail.com. Visit Helen at HelenMdennis.com and follow her at facebook.com/SuccessfulAgingCommunity.