It's a joke, that headline phrase, isn't it? And not a good one. In fact, it's ageist in its assumption that old people cannot or will not change, and most of all, it is wrong.
That is not to say there aren't plenty of stubborn people in the world, but they come in all ages. And in the case of old people, the nature of ageing makes change a requirement if you are going to navigate these advanced years.
We'll get back to that in a moment but first, what about our life-long habits? Are they necessarily bad? Do people who believe all old folks are “set in their ways” should change things just because they've been doing them for many years? (I'm not talking about smoking cigarettes and other dangerous undertakings.)
The web has only a skimpy amount of useful material on the subject and with a few exceptions they want old people to change. At least one even has a numbered list of instructions on how to get others to adopt your way of doing things.
But consider where we old folks are in life: We have decades of trial and error in pretty much all aspects of our lives along with sometimes cherished habits that over years turned into favored rituals.
A couple of weeks ago, a friend mentioned that she wouldn't want one of those machines makes a single cup of coffee from the insertion of a little pod. Aside from the environmental disaster they cause, she said, she prefers the ritual of a French press.
I'd never thought of it that way, but I now embrace the idea of ritual with my own French press I've been using for going on 40 years. I like that routine first thing in the morning. It feels comfortable and after all this time, it doesn't require thought (if you don't count the recent morning when I measured the coffee into the cup.)
The other thing about coffee is that even after more than 14 years, I have my favorite blend sent from the shop where I bought it in New York City. A bonus was when I figured out that even with shipping costs, it is cheaper than buying coffee where I live now - particularly so when you know you're getting a full pound (16 ounces) rather than the 10 or 12 ounces at the market.
These are good habits to be set in my ways about – they reliably bring me pleasure and I get to do it every morning. How terrific is that and why would I change?
By the time we reach old age, we have made hundreds, maybe thousands of decisions so we have a lot of practice at making good and not-so-good choices to inform new ones that come along.
If, as some say, a portion of young people do change their minds more frequently than old people, it is because they are just starting out. There's a lot to learn about living, much of it through trial and error.
But it is in old age where willingness to make changes becomes crucial to well-being. Linda Breytspraak of the Center on Aging Studies, University of Missouri-Kansas City (quoted at missourifamilies.org/) explains more succinctly than I could:
”The majority of older people are not 'set in their ways and unable to change,'” she writes. “'There is some evidence that older people tend to become more stable in their attitudes, but it is clear that most older people do change.
“'To survive, they must adapt to many events of later life such as retirement, children leaving home, widowhood, moving to new homes, and serious illness.'”
She's right that survival depends on our ability to accommodate our changing circumstances as we grow old.
I've learned a lot about adapting in the past two years since I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. In one case, I eat what I consider a terrible high calorie, high fat diet nowadays to help keep my weight up so I don't become frail.
As the chief oncology nurse said to me when I objected, “The cancer will kill you long before the diet will.”
And so I eat a lot of the foods I shunned for most of my life and it has kept on the weight. If I skip even a single meal, I lose a pound or so overnight so I am diligent about eating as I never was when I was younger.
In another bid to have a healthy life for as long as possible in my predicament, I sleep a full night every night. For the past year, I've been using cannabis, an edible or tincture) to help ensure a full six to seven hours if not always eight hours. It works and, cancer notwithstanding, I feel a lot better than all those years I woke after only three or four hours of sleep.
Did I mention recently that I made a new rule? No more climbing ladders. Thanks to chemotherapy, I am shaky on my feet sometimes and I surely don't want a broken hip or back or neck from a fall.
For the same reason, I look down when I walk around my apartment complex so that I don't trip on one of the pine cones that are everywhere.
It is doubtful that we will convince others that being “set in our ways” is not a bad thing and can even be a life saver for old people. But we can embrace our habits and rituals and enjoy them. We spent a lifetime learning these lessons, often the hard way.