I think when I retired I must have been put on some list for people 55+ as I’m constantly bombarded with email ads related to agelessness. All of them want to sell me ‘ageless’ or ‘anti-aging’ products or services (fill in the blank: beauty, health, brain, skin, etc.) that promise the illusion of youth.
As they started to increase, I found myself wondering what’s wrong with getting older? I’ve been young, and as fun as that was, I have no desire to do it again! I’ve embraced my grey hair (the surprising reaction I’ve received from others is a topic for another blog) and have come to terms with my wrinkles – most days :).
The stigma that this ‘ageless’ industry creates around natural aging is really disheartening. As a retirement coach, I am finding many people are reluctant to even discuss the idea of retirement because of the negative connotations associated with it. They certainly don’t want others to know they are considering it. And who can blame them? Who wants to be perceived as over-the-hill, irrelevant, no longer competent or useful, put out to pasture, or any of the other terms we assign to retirees?
So, part of my role as their coach is to help them change their mindset about what retirement can be. And that often means exposing their underlying beliefs about aging and that retirement is leading them one step closer to the nursing home and their mortality. No one wants to think about that in their 50s or 60s!
Don’t misunderstand – retirement is about aging. But so is the rest of our life. We are all aging from the moment we are born. We go through a number of life stages that hold a place on an age continuum, i.e. there will always be people younger and older than we are on the planet. Each stage is different and inclusive of different skills and capabilities. So why is this stage of life seen as far less attractive than others? Why are we so hell-bent on not getting old?
What if we thought of aging as what it actually is – the process of living?
An interesting new book by Ashton Applewhite: This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism tackles the issue. Applewhite proposes that our devaluing of ‘olders’ – her term for those who are further along the age continuum – has resulted in both an irrational fear and reluctance in getting older (as if there is a choice) and an unquestioning acceptance that our lives will be less somehow, if we do.
Through research and data she and others have collected, Applewhite turns many of the perceptions and fears we associate with aging (e.g. loss of visibility/relevance, loss of mobility and independence, onset of depression) on their head in her book. For example, she cites studies that state only four per cent of Americans over 65 live in nursing homes (under eight per cent in Canada), the vast majority do not get Alzheimer’s, and people are much happier with their lives as they age. She says there is a distinct disconnect between what we imagine about getting older and the actual reality and she attributes that to ageism – society’s and our own. Internal ageism encourages us to deny or dread our own futures. How sad.
The undeniable fact is we are getting older – individually and globally. Longevity research is predicting the average human lifespan will increase to 100 years by 2080 and the percentage of the population over the age of 65 is increasing around the world. Perhaps it is time we reconsidered how we view older people and aging and accept that each life stage is not good or bad, just different.
What if we viewed aging as what it actually is – the process of living?
Besides overcoming our fear of the inevitable, this more progressive mindset has benefits. People with positive perceptions of aging actually live a lot longer – 7.5 years on average – and they are happier, according to Applewhite.
Retirement is a doorway to a new stage of life. It can be ripe with possibility and new beginnings. Or it can be a self-fulfilling prophecy of decline and incapacity. It’s all in how you choose to view it.