“You’re invited!” That’s what the card said.
To the “14th annual Older American’s Day Celebration.”
But who are “Older Americans?” Whoever they are, the number is apparently growing.
The Census Bureau estimates that the percentage of US citizens 65 and older will swell from 13 to 20 percent of the total U.S. population in the next 40 years and could cause significant challenges to the health care delivery system – one that already seems to be maxed out.
Older people as a group are higher users of health care services than younger people. With that observation, comes the expectation that this trend will continue.
But is that necessarily true? Maybe not. In one example, recent studies in both England and Denmark, published in The Lancet, showed that successive generations are experiencing lower rates of dementia, one extremely costly malady often associated with aging. And, there is a movement in the US to provide improved palliative care – including spiritual care. Initial reports indicate this brings costs and other burdens on the system down as well.
Some people worry about growing old. And others welcome it, at least until they can retire from their work. Some want the aging process to be suspended.
Just what does “aging” actually mean? One person might look at it as the body wearing out. Another might not see it this way. Scientists show that about 98% of the atoms in the human body are replaced every year. What we really don’t want is the quality of our life to deteriorate, so we can go to great lengths to stop the aging process.
Most of us hope to live a long, healthy, and vibrant life. We’ve been told of some ways in which to maximize that potential: get enough sleep, eat the right kinds of foods, and stay physically active.
Cultivating the right state of mind can also help one stay active and vibrant in the golden years. A centenarian friend of mine seemed to understand this point. She lived alone in an upstairs apartment with no elevator. She did all her own cooking and cleaning, kept her house spotless, and managed her own investments. She often said, “I don’t believe God sees me as old.” She even wondered why a nephew of hers thought he was too old to travel, when he was 30 years her junior. She saw age as a state of mind, not a number of years.
As the dementia researchers suspected, mental factors – such as having a higher education – have a positive impact and are associated with lower rates of dementia.
Perhaps a playful approach to life is another key to our health and longevity. George Bernard Shaw once said, “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.”
We’re also finding that a positive outlook is associated with better physical and mental health. Ciro Conversano and his colleagues point out in their literature review that:
Optimism is a tendency to expect good things in the future. From the literature here reviewed, it is apparent that optimism is a mental attitude that heavily influences physical and mental health, as well as coping with everyday social and working life.
Another factor that seems to play an important role in our health is the propensity to pray or meditate regularly. We may not all agree on how or why this works, i.e., invoking the relaxation response or tapping into the Divine, but many people are finding it is a key factor in their health care regimen. Additionally, some studies make a distinction between individual prayer and involvement in a religious community and indicate Religious involvement also plays a role in our health as reported in the Medical Journal of Australia.
Whatever lifestyle or practices we adopt to keep us on the go in our advancing years, looking towards the future with anticipation of good and enjoyment will help keep us going. “Men and women of riper years and larger lessons ought to ripen into health and immortality, instead of lapsing into darkness or gloom,” writes Mary Baker Eddy, a Christian healer who lived to be 89 in an age when the average female life expectancy was 48.
And Geriatrician Marcel Olde Rikkert puts it aptly when he says, “If you enjoy aging it will improve your health.”
Eating right, staying active and adequate rest are important. But when it gets right down to it, living long, healthy, and happy involves the thoughts we hold about ourselves and what we expect from our future. I take time to think and pray about how I see myself, and make sure that I shape my expectations into a continually fresh, purposeful, and prosperous life.
I highly recommend it.