Too often seniors who have been successful and productive individuals, are trivialized in their everyday interactions. Most often this occurs unintentionally because of unconscious assumptions about people who are growing old. But it occurs everywhere, and I believe the assumptions that greet a person of any age can often evolve into self-fulfilling prophecies. Negative assumptions can make people feel and act older and less confident.
In an earlier post (October 28, 2009) I wrote about how people often shout or speak in preschool child voices when conversing with older people. But many other myths or assumptions are demonstrated when non-seniors interact with seniors. Some interesting assumptions I’ve observed include thoughts that older people are less efficient and responsible at work, are stubborn, are always in ill health, are bad drivers, and, if they ever express a less than thoughtful idea, are senile. I’ve also noticed that as people age, their opinions are less sought after.
Based on my interaction with family members and friends, it is my sense that all of these characteristics are part of one’s life long personality. If they do not exist earlier in life, they rarely exist in the retirement or senior years. So there are very few reasons to make assumptions about people of retirement age and beyond.
My family members have been and continue to be amazing achievers in life, but also in retirement. One person is a professional singer, and though she does not perform any longer is still an active choir member and manages the soprano section. Another family member, a former professor and minister, has continued to study and research in libraries, attends every concert he can, and keeps up his lifelong journaling. Yet another, also a retired professor, continued to work in the academic setting well past her 70th birthday, still runs (years later) workshops for staff members at her retirement center, and was one of the super-volunteers in the Obama Presidential campaign. Our eldest family member, though now very ill, continued with multiple book clubs, chaired the resident committee that supported employees of her retirement community, read two major newspapers every day, and served a couple of stints as her alumna sorority chapter president, all between ages 82 and 88.
I once asked another friend who is over 90 years old what her secret is and she said that she finishes the Washington Post and New York Times crossword puzzles before 11:00 in the morning and then gets on with the challenges of the day. It would take me and most other people all day to almost finish one of these puzzles.
If you judge by appearances, what all of these people have in common is gray hair (at least some of them), a fair number of wrinkles, and a bit less mobility than they used to have. But when you speak with them (in a normal voice, that is) they demonstrate intellectual curiosity, confidence, eagerness to learn new things, a keen desire to make the world a better place, and a love of interacting with others. They demonstrate long lives lived fully. Real living legacies, I think.
- US News and World Report, Nov 30, 2009, “Five Common Myths Aging”
- Institute on Aging, University of Pittsburgh, “Aging Myths and Emerging Realities”
- Dispelling the Myths of Aging, The University of Maine Extension Caregiver Fact Sheet
- Myths and Realities of Aging, The University of Florida, Extension, pdf document