What Does It Mean to Grow Older?
How Do We Make It a Positive Experience?
by Betty Soldz
The recent loss of several friends has led me to reflect on what it means to grow older. What are some of the positive things about growing older? What are the negatives? How can we increase the positives and decrease the negatives? I know that many women are now, and will be in the future, considering this question.
For today's women, the positive side of aging may be that we are better-educated, healthier, and more autonomous than women of former generations. After retirement, there is time to enjoy our grandchildren (if we have them), pursue new interests and make new friends. The negative side might be health or memory problems, and outliving a spouse, partner, companion or friends. The common theme confronting all of us as we age is the probability that we will face changes in major areas of our lives. How will we deal with these changes and maintain control? How will we maintain a meaningful life?
There is no one way to accomplish these goals. There is no one "older woman." There are wide differences between us. I thought about the concerns voiced by many of the women who were members of discussion groups I have facilitated over the years and want to share with you several of their concerns and some solutions. At another time, I will address other problem areas and approaches.
Many women worry about loss of memory. When we are young and can't remember something we shrug it off. After middle age when we can't remember something we may begin to panic when we don't have to. It is not unusual to forget the name of someone we recently met, misplace our car keys, or go into a room and not remember what we came for. It may just take a bit longer to bring up the information from a brain filled with information acquired over many years of life.
There are many physical and emotional conditions that can contribute to memory loss, so if you have consistent problems it is a good idea to speak with your physician about your concerns. If there is nothing physically wrong, some of the following may help:
- Physical exercise such as a daily walk.
- Mental exercises such as word games or crossword puzzles.
- There are numerous books with exercises to hone your memory skills.
- Make lists, make notes, plan ahead.
- Get involved in an activity such as volunteering, taking a class or joining a club.
- When being introduced to someone, always repeat their name.
- How best to live life, after retirement In other words: After retirement, what? How do we stay connected? How do we utilize our extra time?
Maintaining our physical health with exercise and good nutrition will help us have a positive older age and enjoy our retirement. For those who smoke or drink to excess, it is never too late to change.
There are a number of ways to stay connected with your social network which may include family, friends, church or social groups, or discussion groups. Some of us stay in contact through the Internet. Staying involved with others has a positive effect on both health and mortality.
Although we want and need to stay connected to our family we cannot and probably do not want to become dependent on them to provide us with all of our social support. Joining travel clubs, couples clubs, hiking groups, church or temple groups will provide a chance to meet others who may also be looking for new friends. Volunteering may fill your time in a rewarding way.
Discussion groups that focus on aging provide not only a social network but a place to find our own voice, listen to each other and support others as we grapple with the changes in our lives. They offer us support, help us clarify our thoughts and fears and work through solving our problems. As Deborah Kolb stated in Her Place at the Table, "It is through communication and interaction that problems are framed, considered and resolved."
If you cannot find such a group, consider starting one. Try to enlist the help of several others who are interested in helping you. Talk up the idea of a discussion group among friends, acquaintances, and wherever you go.
A substantial number of married or partnered women who live a long life will have to adjust to living alone again. Staying connected to family and friends, volunteering or being an advocate for others, making new friends and preparing for widowhood will ease the transition. It is important to build a network of friends you can socialize and perhaps travel with before this transition takes place.
These are just a few of the ways the wonderful women I have known have dealt with memory loss, retirement, widowhood and growing older in a positive way.
In the future, I will share more of their joys and concerns and resolutions with you. I would love to hear your ideas on positive aging. You can contact me at Milbet@aol.com