There are real concerns as one ages. There are some solutions for those fears. One does not have to live in a valley of fear and regret.
One Halloween, supermodel Heidi Klum dressed up as an “old lady” for Halloween. High heels and mini skirt were hardly noticeable for the “costume” of varicose veins, wrinkles, liver spots, white hair, and a cane. Klum posed for photos in a rocking chair. One has to wonder–is Klum afraid of growing old?
Such stereotyping of age rests on a misconception, if not a downright lie, that all young people have perfect skin, gleaming hair, have non-stop sex, are bursting with energy, and are never lonely. And the second part of that lie is that aging means useless, ugly, and unhappy—a true Halloween nightmare.
Real fears do not go bump in the night or hide under the bed–these are uncertainties about the future. Those who are in the second half of life know that real fear results from the tension between the will to survive and the awareness of limited time.
- Loss of independence
- Declining health
- Running out of money
- Not being able to live at home
- Death of a spouse or other family member
- Inability to manage their own activities of daily living
- Not being able to drive
- Isolation or loneliness
- Strangers as caregivers
- Fear of falling or hurting themselves.
Reorganization of perceptions can help decrease fear. It helps to name the fear and face it.
- Play detective. If you are unsure of what is frightening you, look for clues. When does it happen? Where? Is it when you are alone or with others?
- Be creative. Experiment with ways that help you feel safer. Even small gestures like installing grab bars or fixing a loose railing not only make your environment safer but can also give you a sense of control.
- Change your perception. Use humor, read books, draw pictures of your fears.
- Clear up false beliefs.
- Answer the “what-ifs.” The ache in your knees is probably arthritis, but get a thorough physical rather than engaging in fear of cancer.
- Don’t overreact to nightmares.
- Look for role models. Talk to survivors of your fears.
- Learn coping skills. Find a mantra that reassures you. The doors are locked, your pantry is full, the laundry is done. Try breathing exercises. Learn to discern between a true concern that needs to be addressed and a fantasy
- Avoid media overexposure.
- Talk about your fears. With peers, professionals, and family. Seek their ideas about solutions.
Aging, just like the rest of life, is a mixture of gains and losses. There are losses associated with every stage of life. Mid-life life years may be consumed with the longing to be free from a job, and retirement may bring grief over the loss of the security and social connection it provided. Throughout life, mourning is an essential human task, freeing up a space in which new qualities and experiences can develop.
Realistically, most people find their energy levels changing as they age and have to learn to pace themselves. But physical and mental vitality are not the same thing. The idea that one’s appetite for life automatically decreases with the passing of the years is simply wrong–it often increases! Most older people say they care far less what other people think of them, live life more fully, and are better able to weather crises.
Florida Scott-Maxwell (playwright and suffragette) wrote at age eight five, “Age puzzles me. I thought it was a quiet time. My 70s were interesting and fairly serene, but my 80s are passionate. I grow more intense as I age. To my own surprise, I burst out with hot conviction … I must calm down. I am far too frail to indulge in moral fervor.”
People can revitalize themselves at any age–they can go on learning and developing until the final breath. When a ninety-year-old British woman was asked why she volunteered, she replied succinctly: “Personal growth.”
Resisting ageism, not age, is part of age-acceptance that embraces the process of growing older, discovering in the process that life can become more exciting and enriching as years pass.
Age isn’t something that happens to us in the second half of our life–it is a lifelong process. We age from the moment we are born. In this sense, ageing is another word for living!