5 tips to help older people cope with age-related changes
Q. As a 79-year-old woman, I have noticed lots of changes. I used to play tennis and no longer do so. I used to stay up late at night and start my day early the next morning. Don’t do that either. I used to run and now just walk. In addition, I often wonder, “Who is it that is looking back at me in the mirror?” And my “used to” list is longer than my “can do” list. How do we accept our limitations? T.F.
“There is nothing permanent except change,” according to the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus. That is so true when it comes to aging. If we are lucky enough to live a long life, it also is likely we will be confronted with age-related changes. And some of those changes will be losses. We know physical stamina can be reduced; years of running may cause joint problems and our immune system is affected. And then there’s that face we look at in the mirror. We may see character lines, commonly known as wrinkles, and skin that seems to hang a little lower. Yes, that is aging.
HelpGuide.org, a highly regarded online nonprofit guide to mental health and wellness, provides us with some tips on learning to cope with age-related changes. Here are a few.
Be grateful. Expressing gratitude is a way to appreciate what we have instead of what we are lacking. There are many ways to express that feeling: Write a thank you letter to someone who had a positive influence on your life. Keep a gratitude journal that describes thoughts about gifts you receive each day. Setting up a weekly time to count blessings is another strategy. Helpguide.org suggests being specific about how you feel when good things happen to you and share that with loved ones. Then there is prayer which can be used to cultivate gratitude. Yoga helps focus on the present and mindful meditation can clear the busy mind to remind us to be grateful for nature’s gifts such as the sweet smell of spring and the warmth of the sun.
Accept the things we cannot change. Consider the serenity prayer from Alcoholics Anonymous: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.” Many aspects of aging are beyond our control. Yet we know there is much we can do to slow the aging process and actually improve and even excel. This applies to strength, wisdom, insight, creativity, certain types of intelligence and more. The acceptance begins with realistically looking at what we cannot change. And I mention realistically because aging has gotten a bad rap as only meaning disease, disability and depression. That’s inaccurate. There is much we can do to slow the aging process.
Look for the silver lining. Some believe that “What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.” In some cases, that might be true. To begin, consider looking at the age-related stressful situation. Evaluate if a poor choice or mistakes were contributing factors. If so, ask yourself, “What can I learn from this?” Then look at the challenges as opportunities for personal growth. A good example is the social isolation suffered by older adults during the height of the pandemic. Many have become experts on Zoom, connecting with family more often, taking classes online and learning a new technology. Others have been inspired to write their memoir and sharing it with loved ones.
Consider humor. We know having a sense of humor is good for us, triggering several positive physical responses. Humor relaxes our body, relieving muscle tension and stress; it decreases the stress hormone cortisol that minimizes pain and inflammation. Use of humor reduces blood pressure and stimulates the immune system. It promotes well-being, a positive outlook and a stable mood as well as increased resilience. And having a good laugh is just fun.
Take some action. Figure out how to add some joy and meaning to your life. You may pick up a new hobby, join a class or club. Consider learning a new game, foreign language, volunteer for a cause or travel. Spend time in nature or enjoy the arts. The point is to “do something.”
The late poet, author and civil rights activist Maya Angelou is quoted as saying “If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.” That could be one approach to coping with age-related changes. Thank you T.F. for your good question. To keep a balanced approach to aging, next week we’ll discuss what can get better with age – besides fine wine and cheese. Stay well and remember kindness is everything.
Helen Dennis is a nationally recognized leader on issues of aging and the new retirement with academic, corporate and nonprofit experience. Contact Helen with your questions and comments at Helendenn@gmail.com. Visit Helen at HelenMdennis.com and follow her on facebook.com/SuccessfulAgingCommunity