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How to Celebrate Older Americans Month

May is Older Americans Month. It is also Jewish American Heritage Month, Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, Mental Health Awareness Month, National Physical Fitness and Sports Month, and National Foster Care Month but this is a blog about growing old.

In case you were wondering, Older Americans Month was proclaimed in 1963 by President John F. Kennedy and that led to the Older Americans Act (OOA) of 1965.

Through that Act, federal agencies, primarily the Administration on Aging, provide services and programs that help local communities promote the well-being of elders, particularly those that help elders live independently in their homes and communities.

So this time of year there are a lot of lunches and other activities to honor old people and I think we should take a day here at TGB to celebrate ourselves too.

We should do that for one day because during all the other 364, the universal doctrine that getting old is the the worst thing that can happen to anyone is what prevails.

If you spend any time at all with any kind of media (in the U.S., certainly), you are relentlessly blasted with anti-aging messages in so many forms that it takes entire books to explain them all. (I know; I own at least three of them.)

The perversion of language is among the worst. The word “young,” for example, is used as a synonym for healthy making the word “old” a synonym for sick. It happens hundreds of times a day in knee-jerk ways in movies, TV shows, books, magazines, newspapers, advertisements, conversation and more.

And it's not just a metaphor. To believe that the definition of old is sick is to cause real illness in yourself and lead to early death. Just accepting the negative stereotypes does that, as a growing body of evidence-based science is showing.

In January this year, CNN explained the results from one of the earliest of these research studies:

”In 2001, researchers from Yale and Harvard University looked at 660 participants between the ages of 50 and 80 who participated in a community-based survey, the Ohio Longitudinal Study of Aging and Retirement.

“They measured how self-perception of aging impacted survival over the course of 22.6 years. They found that participants who held a more positive attitude about their own aging - such as continuing to feel useful and happy - lived, on average, 7.5 years longer.

“In fact, they found that perception of aging influenced longevity even more than blood pressure, cholesterol, body mass index, or a person's tendency to exercise.

And a new study about old age and loneliness, published just last week in England, is the latest in a growing collection of similar results in various aspects of ageing:

”Brunel University London found that expectations and stereotypes of a lonely old age are predictors of actual loneliness. In a sample of 'not lonely' people over the age of 50 years old, a third expected to be lonely and a quarter agreed that old age is a time of loneliness.

“Those with negative stereotypes were twice as likely to report being lonely eight years later and those with low expectations were almost three times more likely to feel this way...

“This is especially significant given the willingness of younger people to accept the stereotype of old age as a time of insecurity, poor health and loneliness - a notion that has persisted in research findings since the 1950s.

“The new research could also shed light on the higher rates of loneliness in England compared with Europe where expectations and stereotypes about old age are quite different.”

Another study has shown that feelings of loneliness increase the risk of premature death by 14 percent.

Note that it is the old person's perception of old age that makes the difference. If you expect to be lonely, to be sick, to be unhappy, to die before your time you are more likely to experience that kind of old age – there is truth to self-fulfilling prophecy.

But you can change that. The way to celebrate Older Americans Month is to check your perspective. Are you harboring stereotypes and anti-aging beliefs about yourself or other old people?

Don't feel bad if you do – they've been brainwashing us about how awful old age is since the cradle. Just take some time to adjust remaining negative attitudes. You'll be healthier and happier for doing so.


Comments

I do my best to ignore the brainwashing since it is mainly put out there by advertisers wanting to sell us something. Those ads usually have fit, spry and attractive not very old elders in them. They are often idealized happy couples, which is very far from reality for most of us. But they still manage to convey to us that we need to try and look younger.

I try to celebrate old age everyday by trying to keep my brain functioning on all cylinders and my body moving with exercise and stretching.

I am now 70 and have been growing old for a long time. I feel I am now on a plateau of a happy old age --that is until I come up against frailty --and then I might have a problem.

So far people tell me I should not tell my age because no one would guess but I am trying to project that this is what my age can be as I move forward. I want to disprove their myth that I should be shuffling down the street.

I know the day will come. That life changing event that suddenly happens-- but until then I am trying to be a role model for old age. Knock on wood--

I work at changing the stereotype on weekends in the boatyard. Yesterday, I was on my belly, on the swim platform, drilling holes for hinges for our new dive ladder. The crew and I had been talking about people who want to be "one of a kind" because there was a Ferrari parked nearby and we figured someone (probably male) drove it to the marina as an attempt to stand out from the crowd.

I remarked, from my prone position with dripping hands and barked knuckles, that I was one of a kind too: the only almost 72 woman doing the work while three men watched.

They chuckled and agreed.

Terrific story, EasyDiver, and so often true.

This August I will turn 70. I have never thought of myself as "Old" even when I approached and passed the usual milestones of 50, 60, and 65. But for some reason, 70 sounds old to me. After all, I remember my parents and grandparents when they turned 70. They were not only old, but Very Old. And now, it's my turn to join the club so to speak. And, while I know in my heart and head that 7-0 is just a number, the perception of old age still abounds. Stigma, it appears, is as powwrful as reality.

I think stigma works to add negative thoughts about ourselves that would not be there otherwise. If only we could ignore the surrounding opinions about what all people will become in old age, a large majority of us would be happier and happiness leads to good things. I choose to block out as much negativity as possible and be an individual old person. Jessie...

I didn't expect to be lonely after I retired, but it has become an issue in a way. Because I had so many friends at work I expected to stay in contact with many of them. That didn't happen. But that's okay, I eventually realized that occasional friends aren't real friends. The odd thing I didn't see coming, and should have, is all my non-work friends who still work don't have the time I do, so I now realize how little I get to see them. It used to be socializing was a weekend only thing, but now I need to schedule some weekday socializing. I'm working that out.

I haven't really felt "old" until very recently. Facing one of those markers in a couple months, when I turn 65 in July, and having a hard time with it. Particularly having difficulty sorting through the Medicare options, and I need to get that done soon. I'm going with original Medicare parts A & B, but I'm having a terrible time choosing a supplement. Ack! Now this is stressing me and making me feel old!

Like Jim H., I didn't expect to be lonely, and I thought my work colleagues and I would stay in touch. But in the past 11 years since my retirement, only one friend has kept in touch with me. So loneliness has been an issue I have struggled with. But gradually I came to believe that perception does influence reality. I enlarged my view of socializing to include the birds, rabbits, deer, turkeys, and other creatures that inhabit my home place in the woods, and that has allowed me to feel less lonely and more in touch with all living things. I still like to get together with human beings, of course, but since that isn't possible very often, I cherish those times more.

I'm 70, and for the past few weeks I've had moments where I felt "old." No specific reason for that. No pains, no discomfort, no more wrinkles than normal. It's just a feeling inside.

I do stay in touch with work friends, and will see them in a few months. I moved away from the city where I worked when I retired to be with my husband full-time. When he died a few months after my retirement, I moved to an over-55 community in the new state, which has kept me sane, and where I have great friends and stay active.

May is also National Historic Preservation Month - a celebration of the old!

Ronni, I like your summation speaking to self-fulfilling prophecies. I'm nearing 80 and seldom have experienced any significant illness.

Because of early training within my family, I don't expect to be sick. Therefore, I'm not. Can't explain it any other way.

My goodness sakes alive, most people cannot afford to retire ever, no pensions, no savings and most have to help family members who will never buy or own a home, let alone retire..Why all the negative stuff about older americans, we are retired and we do what we can and travel a lot, we own a home, my husbands family never owned a home, not with a wandering eyed dad who left only to return for his wife to have another baby and he was gone again, we have one child lives in NYC never expects to buy a home there and marriage women who do well don't marry unless they truly want a baby with someone they love or they just adopt or invitro or go it alone, retire, no one in amercia gets to retire at all anymore!

My family never owned a home, but my single aunt married 3 times to men who did not want to work hard like she did, had plenty of rental properties and bought her Mom my grandmother a home to boot, she never had children though, my Mom her only sibling died young, my aunt would not take care of us and the state did a horrible job, some people just get the short end of the stick, retirement balderdash most people don't live quiet lives of desperation they live screaming and yelling..

It's now been 4-1/2 months since my "involuntary retirement" (aka: layoff) and I've stayed in touch with a few of my former co-workers. However, once the process of going bankrupt is completed and our nonprofit is totally closed, I expect that we will go our separate ways.

Bruce, I thought 70 sounded "really old" too--until I turned 75. I will be 80 less than 2 years from now (if I make it, which I'm expecting to do). My husband is 85 and still going strong, maybe not quite as far and as fast as he once did but still going. I think our parents were "older" than we are at their age, but relatively fewer people reached 70 in their generation so it WAS "old".

The revelation of my being old is in the mirror daily, but, to my surprise I was taken aback by some online photos of some of my college friends.

I haven't attended any alumni reunions, so haven't seen any of them in real life, just a picture or two. Wow have they aged--and they are all at least two—5 years younger than I am.

But, I am speaking only of facial features as they change. Women often show more change there.
And, we have to face the fact that men can grow beards, have never worn make-up, so their aging faces are either covered up or have become filled with character—or so the story goes.

I will be 75 in August, I have an incurable blood cancer that has not required treatment since I was diagnosed in 2001. I have arthritic hands, stiffness in neck and back. My pain threshold is high, so I do not require more than 2 regular tylenol each night. I have one prescription for no thyroid which was removed in 1980.

So, I can't complain--though, of course, I do on occasion.

I have outlived my immediate family. Life does get lonely now and then. The reality of our each being alone in actuality sometimes makes me blue--for me and for anyone who has settled their mind that
there is something and someone permanent to hold to.

There is always something to do to bring my mind back to the present existence.

Today as I listened to PRI's discussion of robotics and how robots are being developed/improved in every form and for every purpose to fill all the work we have known as how to exist.

They already have replaced some migrant worker field jobs and farmer's need for helpers and are working to get robots to pick the most delicate of fruits and vegetables, so there will be no need for even the lowest and most labor intensive workers.

I can't begin to imagine a life with no work to be done. We already have no direct fresh food access. We have a government ready to throw all who need subsistence to the wolves.

Yes, today I feel old and discarded by society. But,
not entirely. I still have the self chosen duty to pick up and deliver my 95 year old neighbor's paper--while she gets primped up to go out to lunch with her 90 something year old friends.

I hope I don't last that long. Really, I can't imagine that, maybe with a robot or two....


I am surprised that anyone would expect former workmates to stay in touch. I don't want to sound unsympathetic, but I think you have to create your own circumstances for social interaction, and not expect people to just gravitate towards you on their own. I do that by volunteering, but probably there are other ways as well. Having a sense of humor about the travails of life helps also.

Not only do former workmates not stay in touch but even friends tend to go in different directions as we get older except for the few who are closest to our hearts. AND, I always expected my children to stay more attached but they haven't and that is reality.

I think what reminds me most of my age is losing friends through their passing, friends who were much younger than me.

I try not to dwell on the number because quite frankly I feel as good as I did 20 years ago except for being less agile.

I realize the number that is attached to me, has a stigma only if I let it so I try not to dwell on it and I am comfortable enough with it to tell my age if anyone asks. It isn't going away and in fact the number will only go up so I focus more on the present and try to keep my attitude upbeat.

After all, I'm just grateful to still be here. Life still offers an abundance of new experiences and there are no strangers, just friends I have yet to meet.

I must say I detest picking up the phone and hearing, "Hello Seniors!" The advertisers do like to remind us that we are losing our hearing, eyesight, ability to walk or control our bladder and they love to make us feel guilty that we have not bought our burial plot.

I raise my glass to all of us in celebration of Older Americans' Month. We are special!

I'd love to raise a glass with you Judy, but here at the "home" they don't let us have alcohol.

There is little I can add to this conversation except to say that I laugh when I read comments about feeling old when passing the 70 marker.

I passed that birthday 20 years ago and I have done a lot of living since then.

In all honesty I can't remember ever giving any thought to being lonely and, although I lived alone for 30 years, I can count on one hand the times I felt lonely.

While it never gets better, it does beat the alternative and I try to keep that in mind.

But we also don't want to make the Shirley MacLaine mistake of believing that it's someone's fault when they're sick. Sickness is not caused by sadness, and cheerfulness will not ward off terrible physical problems. It's cruel to blame people for physical conditions.

My perception of the world, others and myself is generally positive, even though I am often battling the negative forces that try to take up residence in my mind. I like being aware of their presence and even make conversation with them. They provide an opening for me to explore and develop compassion, and they are a part of me, same as positive inclinations.

I'll celebrate this month by exploring any negativity toward aging (do I frown when I show an aging, normal tendency or perhaps admonish myself for not being 'more' or better at this age?) and raise my juice glass with Judy.

I'm glad you brought this up, for there's much to be said for being aware and reminded of how many times and ways our perception constantly makes our reality.

Great information and wonderful comments..I'm also in my early 70s and had a bout of being lonely 10 years ago after my husband died..he wasn't supposed to do that! He was 10 years younger than I and, we thought, in better health than I was though neither of us were in the best of condition. He died at 52 from complications of diabetes-primarily a heart attack-but diabetes related..it's an awful under rated disease that so many seniors don't pay attention to.

I spent about 4 years feeling sorry for myself. I'd lost my job a year before he died and wasn't ready to retire-I'd raised 4 children essentially alone as a single parent for 25 years, I'd remarried at 50 to the best guy in the world-who didn't live long enough.

Finally, after having more trouble with my 80 year old house that I could begin to handle I moved in with my daughter and her family. This led to us deciding to tear the old house down (it needed it) and build a new place for all of us together.

It took 5 years but just last January we moved into our beautiful new 4000 sq ft house-I have my own apartment, including a craft room for all my craftiness projects. We had to reform the lot of 1 acre so 40 years of gardening went away and now I have the pleasure (and hard work) of rebuilding the gardens.

I'm never lonely. I do date occasionally but am not really looking for any entanglements. I love clothes and keep stylish, have my hair 'done' every 6 weeks and because my eyebrows faded into my face as I aged, even had eyebrows tattooed on so that my face has an expression again.

I volunteer (even when I'min pain-having chronic pain sucks). I walk the track at Nike World HQ's-which is just down the street from me-several times a week now that I've been encouraged to be an athlete again by one of Ronnies writers. I work at the elementary school my grand daughter goes to and while I don't have many girlfriends as I worked with men most of my life I simply don't have time to feel lonely.

It is a state of mind..and I like the state my mind is in!

Plantcrone your neighbor in Beaverton

To add to the topic of former co-workers staying in touch - about 6 to 8 of us get together every 6 weeks or so for lunch at a Thai restaurant.And I've been retired for 10 years but then all us had a great team relationship when working, so we are lucky. Only one woman is still employed and she organizes us all.

I don't depend on this activity alone so I volunteer with the library in a literacy program, and deliver books to a home bound lady. I also joined a women's group where I can choose to attend many spin-off activities. I started learning Mahjong a few months ago, and I attend the garden group. I also keep up with my interest in Bonsai by taking a workshop every month to work on my trees.

And my husband enjoys keeping in touch with a few former co-workers. He also has several support groups he attends. So, like someone else reported, we have to be pro-active and find things we enjoy that help us to feel connected and productive. I so enjoy my alone times but am not lonely.

A P.S. for those who want to stay in touch with former workmates..FACEBOOK!

I joined originally to keep in tough with grandkids and away from me family - and still do. However there are so many of my former workmates on Facebook that I can communicate with them more than I did at work!

I got a call from our retiree association asking me to 'friend' the union and after I did that I found about 40% of the people I formerly spent time talking on the phone to daily on FACEBOOK.

Granted it can be a real time sucker if you don't watch out, but I love the pictures, calls for volunteering (we have a strong volunteer association) and invites to lunch.

Think about it! Then, if you really want to keep in touch with old friends from work, look them up on FACEBOOK and request they 'friend' you. Didn't know that was a verb, did ya?
Plantcrone-your neighbor in beaverton

It's amazing what perception will do. I've seen young people abandon and be weird around the elderly, and I've seen young people embrace and care for their elders. I think it's about your culture. Not just your nationality or ethnicity, but the culture you grow up in among family and loved ones the can predict how able you are to deny the false stereotypes and embrace the beauty of aging.

Honestly, I think plain old luck has a lot to do with life.

Don't know how else to account for the fact that I made it to 90 plus and still going strong. Well, most days anyway.

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