Opinion: Positive mindset is key to healthy aging

Kelowna - The paradigm view of what successful aging is really all about is becoming a common topic

A main focus of the work that I do is to support healthy, engaged aging in our community.

The paradigm view of what successful aging is really all about is becoming a common topic of conversation wherever Boomers gather together. There are so many times I sit at a coffee shop and the people around me are discussing this very thing, along with how the care of aging parents is affecting their lives. The Western view of aging is needing to undergo a shift in thinking. Exploring what it means to age successfully is not the same for everyone, but having meaningful connections with others, maintaining a positive mindset and strong resilience despite challenges that may be faced, finding a state of grace and peacefulness in day to day living and being able to share wisdom and experience with the younger generations, are all common threads in the fabric of an aging well philosophy that many of us want to integrate into practice.

As our life spans continue to improve, our mindset will be an important contributor to whether we stay healthy as we age. In Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, psychologist Carol Dweck illustrates the concept of fixed mindset and explains how it disrupts learning and growth. When an individual has a fixed mindset, exploration and learning is halted. A fixed mindset adheres to black and white reality. On the other hand, a growth mindset encourages flexibility, is changeable and multidimensional. Perceiving situations with a growth mindset creates possibility. Do we become more afraid of looking foolish or not having all the answers as we get older? I think we do and with this comes more limitations in every aspect of life. Perhaps this contributes to mobility and cognitive functioning becoming more limited. It is something to ponder. At Harvard, Dr. Ellen Langer investigates cultural and individual mindsets about illness, biology and psychological well-being and aging. Dr. Langer’s findings strongly point to the simple fact that who we are and what we do is heavily influenced by the stories we tell ourselves. Re-imagining later life calls for change in a prevalent ageist narrative that restricts women and men as they move into their later years.

One man who has written about his feelings on turning 80, educator Jerry Diakiw, reflects on his life this way: “Failing health can be attributed to more than just normal physical aging.”

While I accept my physical decline, I have noted dramatic psychological changes. After retiring, I returned to school to complete a doctorate, then began teaching courses at York University for another 20 years until I was 78. Though I changed roles, I felt no change in the challenge, rewards or sense of satisfaction of my work. But when I stopped teaching and fully retired, the floor fell out beneath me.

Suddenly I felt an overwhelming sense of the loss of ‘presence,’ being here, noticed, listened to, looked at, changed by, interested in, appreciated, respected — but NOT invisibility! The chronic complaint of the elderly is that we are routinely talked over, ignored, pushed aside, psychologically, even physically.

After fully retiring, I abruptly lost my sense of identity, of who I thought I was, and how I was perceived. For many seniors, our work, our career roles define who we are. The loss of our ‘achievement’ identity is a health risk, accompanied by a loss of self-esteem.” Does maintaining a sense of contribution, of sharing your skills and gifts honed over a lifetime offer a mindset that will help you age with continued verve and passion? I think it might. The expansive Okinawa Centenarian Study seems to prove this.

To explore your thoughts on what it might take to age most successfully and whether inter-generational connections would enhance retirement living lifestyles and aging in place opportunities in the future, a forum for open discussion entitled: Focus Group on Future Programs for Healthy Aging will be held on Thursday, June 28 from 2 to 3:30 p.m. I will be hosting this event with my new inter-generational collaborative partner, an astute millennial by the name of Cailan Libby.

The forum will be held at the Okanagan coLab Building, located at #201-1405 St Paul St., Kelowna. This event can be viewed online at Eventbrite.ca or you can visit the Engaging in Aging Radio Show Facebook page also for more details.

To register, call 250-801-4561 or go online to Eventbrite.ca, seating is limited. I’d love to see you there to join in the conversation with us about how to create a model for retirement living that fosters health and happiness. Perhaps it really is possible to make what have been described as the “Golden Years” truly sparkle with a bright, new intention of hope.

Marjorie Horne is the founder of CareSmart Seniors Consulting and the host of the Engaging in Aging Radio Show every Sunday at 9 a.m. on AM1150.

Contact at 250-863-9577 or marjorie@caresmart.ca.

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