This year’s theme of the government’s Administration of Community Living (ACL) is Aging Unbound. It got me thinking about the things that might be binding or impeding today’s older Americans that could be different than when the month was first celebrated in 1963. One important difference was that Medicare was still two years from becoming a reality but there have been many other changes that have also had a big impact on how we live as we get older and how we are perceived as we age.
One of the biggest differences is we now live longer and remain productive longer. In 1963 the life expectancy for women was 73.4 years and for men 66.6 years. The life expectancy at birth for women in the United States in 2021 was 79.1, while life expectancy for men was 73.2. Even with the almost one-year decrease due to COVID-19, that’s still a six year or 10% increase in our life expectancy over 1963. Coupled with the advancement in Medicine over that period we are more productive during those added years. As I’ve aged, I’ve noticed some other things that impact seniors today.
I can’t think of another span of time when things have changed so rapidly. The computer started to become a reality around the same time I was born, and I graduated from college with, what was then an oddity, a data processing degree. Within 10 years a handheld calculator had the same power as the mainframe computer I used at college. We now have phones that replace cameras, maps, dictionaries, file cabinets, weather forecasts, etc., etc. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that no group of seniors have had to navigate through as many changes as we have. It’s been hard to adapt for many of us and I think sometimes younger people focus on our adaption difficulties.
The “OK boomer” comment is one example of this focus on perceived outdated actions of the boomer generation. I’m not sure the younger generation of 1963 would have been so willing to dismiss older folks with such a statement. Dr. Rick from the insurance company ads convinces us that becoming our parents is not a good thing. It mocks our choice to have a paper boarding pass, clapping after a good movie, or looking at someone with blue hair. These are traits that reflect how we navigated through a big part of our life and how our parents got through their life. While they might reflect a failure to change, I think it might miss the point that being like our parents isn’t completely bad. While I recognize that I am a product of how my parents raised me, I also understood that, as I matured, I had the choice to be better than my parents, a truth that I was taught by my mother. I’ve tried to consciously incorporate my parent’s traits of honesty and hard work while rejecting some of their traits of prejudice and non-acceptance. Which brings me back to Older Americans Month and Aging Unbound.
We shouldn’t be bound by those who might minimize our relevance just because we are “old school,” we’ve learned a lot of things over the years. We shouldn’t be bound by those who want to limit our choices or discount our ability to correctly assess the situation. Choice is one of those unalienable rights. We shouldn’t be bound by unwillingness to learn new things. Sometimes we let the teacher influence our willingness to learn. We’ve never turned a deaf ear to our eight-year-old granddaughter as she showed us how to work our smart phone. We shouldn’t be bound by mistakes we’ve made in the past. A wise man once said, “you can’t plow a straight line by looking behind you.” Sorry if I got kind of preachy here but, as I’ve advocated for older Americans over the years, I’ve observed ageist actions by a variety of people and institutions, and those actions only served to bind and constrict the lives of those who deserve better.
So . . . in deference to older Americans Month, here are some things the Administration of Community Living suggests we do to increase our independence and fulfillment by paving our own paths as we age.
- Embrace the opportunity to change. Find a new passion, go on an adventure, and push boundaries by not letting age define your limits. Invite creativity and purpose into your life by trying new activities in your community to bring in more growth, joy, and energy.
- Explore the rewards of growing older. With age comes knowledge, which provides insight and confidence to understand and experience the world more deeply. Continue to grow that knowledge through reading, listening, classes, and creative activities.
- Stay engaged in your community. Everyone benefits when everyone is connected and involved. Stay active by volunteering, working, mentoring, participating in social clubs, and taking part in activities at your local senior center or elsewhere in the community.
- Form relationships. As an essential ingredient of well-being, relationships can enhance your quality of life by introducing new ideas and unique perspectives. Invest time with people to discover deeper connections with family, friends, and community members.
That last suggestion hit home with me; I tend to feel comfortable in my own world. I can see where finding a new friend would expand my life and get me outside myself. These are certainly things that can help us age unbound.
We’re all getting older, but we have a lot to give, and we still have a lot of joy left in our lives. The effort is worth it.