The stated purpose of my book “Dynamic Aging “is to help change the current cultural paradigm around aging. The term “cultural paradigm” means a distinct set of thought patterns, ideas and maps which compose an agreed upon model of thinking about a subject. For instance, at one time Europeans thought that the world was flat and that you would fall off the earth if you sailed to the horizon.
The current cultural paradigm around aging is that after retiring the future only holds a decline in health, mental acuity and agility. Sickness and death were on the near horizon. But we are experiencing the new model that makes this paradigm obsolete. More and more people are entering their ninth decade in good health, physically active and mentally alert. The fastest growing segment of the population is people celebrating their hundredth birthday.
In order to change this common way of viewing our elderly population is to examine our own attitude about aging. Let’s think together about this from the following four perspectives: how the elderly view themselves, how the elderly see each other, how grown children think about their parents and how the young view their grandparents.
At a certain age people can begin to think of themselves as “old” and begin to be depressed because they think that life is over. They can begin to feel that society has gone off and left them. Technology changes so fast that they can’t learn the basics before everything changes. As a young friend told me 20 years ago when he was trying to teach me about computers, “Joy, you were born too soon.” Music, entertainment, morals, dress or lack of, have changed and they are not comfortable with the changes. The self-fulfilling prophesy shapes their mind and their morale and they become prematurely “old.” So the choice is to become depressed or determined to live from a mind-set of life is good.
Have you ever had a conversation with an elderly person who did not want to go to a Senior Center or retirement home because they did not want to be around “all those old people?” Intuitively, we want to be around people who are younger than we are and are interested and interesting.
Grown children, many times, view their aging parents as a burden. In the midst of a busy career and caring for their own children, it seems to be just one more thing they have to do. “I’ve got to go see about Mama” is their lament. There is a sense of being torn by guilt and a sense of responsibility mixed with genuine love and caring. Others enjoy the company of their parents and are able to engage in fun and stimulating events with them. Many times these include watching a grandchild play a sport or taking a trip together to a zoo or cultural event. These are the lucky ones.
And lastly, the intergenerational mix of youth and elders is a blessing. The most important legacy that parents leave the younger generation is their stories. Shared stories help the next generation know who their ancestors are, and whose DNA they carry. Stories help youth know where they get their values and even what in their upbringing they are rebelling against. Stories carry the ability to unpack family mysteries and understand generational wounds.
In order to change the way elderly are viewed by the general public, we can examine how we feel about ourselves as well as the way we view aging friends and acquaintances. We can create new ways to be with our children and share our stories with them. WE can determine to live dynamically no matter what the circumstances.