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Elderhood: Rethink Aging And Redefine Old Age

4 years, 2 months ago

15325  0
Posted on Feb 04, 2020, 6 p.m.

Recently we attended the A4M 27th Annual World Congress in Las Vegas where we were fortunate enough to listen to a wonderful lecture given by one of the keynote speakers, Louise Aronson MD. She delivered a great presentation encouraging us all to rethink and redefine aging with powerful arguments and revolutionary conclusions that will challenge and open your mind about aging. 

“The tragedy of old age is not the fact that each of us must get old and die but that the process of doing so has been made unnecessarily and at times excruciatingly painful, humiliating, debilitating, and isolated.” ~ Robert N. Butler, MD. 

Alright so what age is old? Think about what that means to you. Culture suggests that is 30 and up, legally it is considered to be 65, but people vary when they get old, and as to what they consider to actually be old, which also changes as people age and how they think about aging.

To not too much surprise research has shown that the younger you are the younger you think old age begins, but the older you become the older one thinks old ages begins. The range from younger people who said old age begins at 60 to older people who said old age beings at 75 is also the range in which all civilizations in history have consistently placed the beginning of old age. Break this down to gender when asked at what age does a man become old, both men and women agreed on 70. But when asked at what age does a woman become old men said 68 and women said 75. 

Healthy aging involves having a feeling of purpose, something to look forward to, motivation, or some sort of work that you want to live for that will most likely go directly against what society is telling us is old. Social factors to aging include chronological age where some people think that there is just a certain number at which we get old. Socioeconomic status/divide, such as being homeless also makes you age and look older. Aging has numerous factors, governmental definitions and even cultural norms such as it was once believed that when you are 60 you should start to dress in a very boring way and basically retreat from life. 

Disease focus and medical care tends to define age by diagnosis as opposed to by an individual's passions and their activities. For individual factors we should be looking at what kinds of things can this person do. What is their relationship to society, and if they are engaged. When you think about medical conditions sometimes people forget that social isolation and loneliness are much more lethal than most medical conditions that can be treated. Medical care should place more focus on how to get people more engaged in society, to become active in their own life and community which could be helpful to getting them to become more involved in their health which will promote a better self image to positively affect health and wellness. 

According to Dr. Aronson the way we improve aging and aging medicine is to recognize that we need to respect old age and elderhood. The entire point of healthy aging is to live through childhood, past adulthood and move beyond into older years while being able to live a meaningful, fit, and healthy elderhood. To get there the medical industry may need to look into important questions such as why are men dying earlier than women and why do women as they age have so much more morbidity than men which are feeding into the mortality morbidity paradox. 

Culturally getting older now has a negative stigma. What do you think of when you hear the word old, take a moment. Now what do you think of when you hear the word elder. Technically both of the words in the dictionary have the same definition, but realistically they are different to each person and mean different things to each person. 

Before the industrial revolution in America being an elder was something to be desired and respected as well as being related to wisdom and kindness such as in places like Japan. Present day in America it is no longer that way, so much of aging has become cultural, and this is where everyone can make a difference to help enhance the lives of our fellow human beings. It is important to be motivational to elder people, to be respectful, as well as encouraging them to stay engaged in life to stay active both physically and mentally. 

In America there are two portraits of old age: the healthy, active and fit senior, and the silver tsunami which has no upside and has nothing to be done to optimize health. Successful aging means that you get to live to be an old person. Whether you are 20, 40, 60, 80 or older there are things you can look forward to and steps that can be taken to help improve your life. 

Contrary to what the media tells us about getting older the u shaped curve of happiness, which is found in most cultures and societies across the planet, the curve is relatively high in childhood but it is at its highest in elderhood. Which is partly because people have become comfortable with who they are and what their priorities are. During elderhood anxiety plummets from being very high in adulthood due to family and work obligations. Life satisfaction increases, hope and optimism lead to improved moods as life gets better. People understand that life goes on; childhood doesn’t equal adulthood which doesn’t equal elderhood, as people adapt to the changes in their body and lifestyle. 

Adapting to being in elderhood should be seen as a positive thing. For those in their elderhood the amount that you exercise can make a significant difference in your wellness, which holds true for all ages and is backed by science. For instance leg strength can predict frailty, and studies show that we can build muscle mass/endurance to improve functionality and independance to increase personal satisfaction.

The way we see/look at things and our perspective depends on how we think about aging. How a person looks physically doesn’t really tell you how they are on the inside or the outside. Looks can be deceiving. Aging needs to have more of a positive outlook to break all the negative stigmas. Aging is inevitable, inside of you right now there is an elder person moving to the front with each passing year. Moving over the hill is not bad, you earned that. Age is just a number, you do not have to choose to act that number. Being young is not the only equivalent for good. 

Frailty is a real thing that unfortunately affects many people, we need to have more compassion for those affected by frailty and not just forget about them. Silver buildings are now appearing which are geared to the elderly which is a positive action. Taking steps now to promote healthy aging is important so we don’t become one of those statistics. The goal of anti-aging, regenerative, and functional medicine is to delay decline to make us feel as well and appear as well as we can for as long as possible. We can also help people as they age throughout the entire spectrum of aging into frailty until our time on this planet is over. The more people that adapt an anti-aging lifestyle and help others the more people will live to be very old healthily. Living to be very old should be seen as the biggest success that you can have as a human being. 

Attitude/mindset can make a big difference in life; negative or positive stereotypes about old age can determine future health. According to research those that are more negative about aging tend to have more Alzheimer’s disease biomarkers in their cerebral spinal fluid, develop heart disease 7 years earlier, and are less likely to recover well from disability or hospitalization. Those with hope for their elderhood are more likely to engage in physical therapy that can help to bring you back from disability or hospitalization. Additionally, those that believe they can have a meaningful elderhood are more likely to follow a healthy diet, lifestyle, and behaviors that contribute to a healthy lifespan. 

In medicine if elders are treated the same as younger adults, this can do more harm. There are stages of aging in which the body changes, from infancy and early childhood to teenage years into adulthood, then there is an over 65 category. While there is much language and definition to the years leading up to 65+ it stops there, yet we know that the body still is going through stages of changing. Perhaps it is time to create language to define the stages of elderhood as well. 

Life really has 3 main stages: childhood, adulthood, and elderhood. The relationship between healthspan and lifespan is important. Living a healthy lifestyle is important now and in years down the road to healthy aging. Elderhood is largely overlooked until reaching older years, and elderhood is also not what it once was. People are living longer and healthier, taking preventative steps now will help to extend this which includes having purpose, diet, exercise, nutrition, sleep, being socially engaged, and managing stress to optimize the opportunities of aging. Aging, old, senior and elderhood are not bad words to be equated with negativity, break the stigma and stop perpetuating falsehoods.

We really enjoyed Dr. Aronson’s informative presentation, and were delighted to find out that she also wrote a book called Elderhood which is an empathetic look at aging dubbed as being a starred reviewed as well as a “A monumental book about growing old in America–with powerful arguments and revolutionary conclusions that will challenge your assumptions, and open your mind about aging.” This article just brushes on her lecture, to find out more visit her website by clicking here.

Article courtesy of Tamsyn Julie Webber

Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

This article is not intended to provide medical diagnosis, advice, treatment, or endorsement.

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