Rich Evans, former Committee on Publication for Arizona
How often have you asked a child, “How old are you?” It is innocent — like asking a neighbor about the weather. But the message behind the question to the child is an affirmation of a learned habit of focusing on age. That focus develops attitudes and assumptions that take on the aura of reality, when they are but myths.
The thoughts you might carry around about aging are not all supported by experience or data. Some of these common habits of thought about age are simply wrong. When we say that age is just a number, we need to be careful. What does the number represent to us? Is the number loaded with connotations that we have brought to the party?
Anne Tergesen’s article in the Wall Street Journal, November 30, 2014, makes the case as to “Why Everything You Think About Aging May Be Wrong”. For example, many assume that cognitive decline is a necessary part of the aging process. Dementia, more specifically, Alzheimer’s, weren’t part of the everyday conversation a few decades back. Today, by just existing in the media flow, those terms are constants and so is the fear they engender. The impression is that a majority of elders are subject to that condition, and we are advised to be alert to the early signs of its onset. This is incorrect.
It isn’t that these conditions never appear in the elderly but lapsing into these conditions is partly a function of attitude, not just stereotypical expectations of brain function decline. “Over a 38-year period, the decline in memory performance for those ages 60 and over with more negative stereotypes was 30% greater than for those with less negative views, says Becca Levy, an author of the study and an associate professor of psychology at the Yale School of Public Health”. So, the lesson seems to be, don’t buy-in to the negative stereotypes of aging.
Also, with respect to the concern about the prevalence of depression in the older members of society, there is actually less evidence of that condition in later life (5.5%) than in earlier (8.9%). The reason is that people with more life experience tend to focus on positive rather than negative emotions, memories and stimuli — tending to see more of the good than the bad in situations.
Finally, it was encouraging to note that those 65 and older scored higher than all other age groups in the following dimensions of overall thriving in life: life purpose, supportive relationships, economic life, sense of community, and having health and energy to get things done.
This statement from Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, written by the woman who started the Christian Science Monitor in her mid-eighties, has been a wonderful inspiration for many in maintaining a barrier to the encroachment of age-based stereotypes: “Time-tables of birth and death are so many conspiracies against manhood and womanhood. Except for the error of measuring and limiting all that is good and beautiful, man would enjoy more than threescore years and ten and still maintain his vigor, freshness, and promise.”
So, we need not accept the decline in life outlined by popular presumptions, but rather seek to fulfill our promise, which is always expanding, and stop aging.
Published February 4, 2015 in the Arizona Silver Belt newspaper.