Tuesday, April 7, 2009
Positive Aging: The New Mindset
Jeanette Mednick has had her share of physical challenges recently. Like anyone who has made it to the age of 84, she has a twinge here and a pain there, but she also has a plan: "Get busy and stay positive," Jeanette says. "It's better than Tylenol!" As Jeanette and others with her ‘plan' well know, positive aging is more than a buzzword — it is a lifestyle and the future of senior living.
A Concept Comes of Age
The concept of positive aging has been around for decades, according to Dr. Edward Schneider, dean emeritus and professor of gerontology at the University of Southern California. What's new is its widespread acceptance and application, seen in reduced illness and disease, improved longevity and wellness, and increasing social involvement in our current generation of seniors.
Molly Forrest, CEO-President of the Jewish Home, identifies one of the keys to positive aging in an essential human trait. "Our greatest achievement as human beings is our ability to adapt to a changing environment. Taking a positive outlook toward challenges like aging allows us to adjust to what life requires," she says. "Positive aging means having a mindset to accept getting older as yet another step in life rather than the end of the journey."
Dr. Sherwin B. Nuland, the author of "The Art of Aging: A Doctor's Prescription for Well-Being," identifies positive aging with the awareness of the new opportunities we have for improved health and emotional fulfillment.
Drop the Stereotypes
One way to begin aging positively is to distance yourself from the standard concept of an aging person. You might think 75-year-olds don't exercise, or that 85-year-olds don't play bridge. "Part of positive aging is rejecting the stereotypes!" Nuland says. "Strive for the best condition that your body and your mind is capable of. We shouldn't think that just because we have an ailment that all is lost."
Residents of the Jewish Home say that part of adapting to physical problems is to focus on life's good points. "I have a lot of things to be thankful for," says Jeanette Mednick. Bert Harrison, 88, agrees that a good attitude is key to successful aging. He makes an effort to stay cheerful. "You can be physically compromised and still have a great outlook on life," he says.
"Keep going," agrees Rose Wayne, 96, who walks as much as she can. William ("Bill") Jacobs, 91, plans to amp up his activity level and join a singing group. And Sandy Wisner, 82, remains positive despite hospitalizations and the implantation of a pacemaker. "This, too, shall pass!" she says. "I am going to get better."
Who is Good at Positive Aging?
Women have an advantage in the ability to age positively, doctors agree, primarily because they have more developed social networks.Personal factors also play a role, according to Nuland. If you were an optimist in your youth and middle age, chances are you'll get into the swing of positive aging. But you can always learn to be more optimistic. The first step of positive aging, he says, is overcoming what the previous generation said aging should be.
Taking Advantage of Social Opportunities
No one can age positively when they're always alone, experts say. "People need to be a part of the fabric of the community, to participate and feel the joy of giving back," Forrest says. Taking part in organized groups and volunteer work offer people a chance to feel like their life matters.
"Residents at the Jewish Home are aging more positively and successfully than the average person," Schneider adds, attributing this in part to the Home's medical care and support, along with the opportunities for healthy living.
Positive aging isn't a special talent or gift, or limited to a chosen few. It belongs to all of us who take advantage of the plentiful opportunities for physical, mental, and social stimulation, while maintaining the good attitude that make them all possible.