Age is a Number But Aging is a State of Mind — Put More Life in Your Years

Are you really “as young as you feel”? What does it mean to feel young — or old?

As we wrap up another celebration of Older Americans and a great generation’s contributions to the nation, we stop to consider our own aging.

Do you feel like you are aging? Do you feel “old”? What does that really mean anyway? What does old mean to you?

According to the Administration of Aging statistics, 43.1 million Americans were over 65 in 2012. That is one in every seven of us and likely includes many family caregivers and certainly the older loved ones for whom we care.

The number of those even older increased greatly as well in 2012. There were 24 million in the 65-74 age group and 13.3 million in the 75-84 group. Shockingly, there were 5.9 million in the 85+ group and the centenarians numbered 61,985 in 2012.

How Old Do You Feel?

Age is a number but aging is a state of mind, or so we’ve been told. You are as young as you feel, right? Real age and chronological age can be different, can’t they?

How old do you think a person should be before they are considered old? According to AARP we are seniors – or at least old enough to be one of their members – once we turn 50. They celebrate celebrities who turn 50 as if it is a rite of passage. Is turning 50 a reason to celebrate, cry, or maybe just another number?

According to a Pew Research Center study about Growing Old in America, the average of respondents stated we became old at 68. However, each age group answered that question differently.

Not surprisingly, the younger the participant the younger the age at which people were considered old. The youngest group reported that at 60 years a person is considered old. Other markers of old age reported by the participants included when someone can’t live independently, when you can no longer drive a car, when a person forgets familiar names, when health begins to fail, when you can’t walk stairs or control your bladder.

A much smaller number answered that once a person has grandchildren or gray hair they became old (say it isn’t so!).

Those Who ARE Older Feel Younger

The Pew Research Center reported that as a person ages, the older the person is, the younger they feel. The respondents of the study reported what many of us feel. We don’t necessarily feel our actual age.

Respondents over age 50 felt at least 10 years younger than their actual age. Of the respondents aged 65 to 74, one-third said they felt 10 to 19 years younger. For those respondents who were 75 or over, one-sixth said they felt 20 years younger than their actual age.

It is interesting to note that of the older respondents, many reported experiencing few of the ‘benefits’ of aging that younger people may believe will happen such as spending more time with their family, traveling more for pleasure, having more time for hobbies, doing volunteer work or starting a second career. The good news is that 45% of adult respondents 75 and older say their life has turned out better than they expected, while just 5% say it has turned out worse.

Benefits of Old Age

Despite the potential and real challenges we face as we age, such as memory loss, depression, inability to drive independently, and financial struggles, there are many benefits as well.

Older adults who responded to the study reported their greatest pleasure growing older is the ability to spend more time with their family especially their grandchildren. They have more time for hobbies too.

Those who are older also reported having more freedom to travel and do volunteer work that they couldn’t do when working full-time.

From your perspective as a family caregiver gazing toward a senior loved one, what benefits do you see associated with their age?

What Affects Your Ability to Feel Young?

We are all influenced by different things on a daily basis. We have good days and bad days. Some days we blame it all on aging and other days we feel like we can climb the highest mountain without taking a deep breath.

Mind over matter can make a big difference.

Some things make us all have a bad day and some things are worse for others, here are a few things to ponder.

  • Illness
  • Fatigue
  • Uncontrolled diabetes, blood pressure or other medical condition
  • Muscle weakness
  • Depression
  • Financial hardship
  • Conflict
  • Functional decline, loss of mobility
  • Loss, grief
  • Forgetfulness, memory loss
  • Battle of the bulge
  • Stress
  • Birthday
  • Gray hair, glasses, wrinkles
  • Feeling that good years are gone, nothing to look forward to in life

How old or young you feel is about your own perception. There are aches and pains of aging that we need to work through and be sure we seek medical care for what can be fixed.

Putting Life in Your Years – Whatever Your Age

Living your life to the fullest, no matter your age, is about what you put into it. You can make an effort to put life in your years.

  • Set goals for the future. Just because you are retired or have caregiving duties doesn’t mean that you don’t have time or need to set personal goals. Do you have someplace you want to travel or family members to visit? Do you want to learn to cook or speak French? There is some truth in having a bucket list to achieve all the things that you dream about to put a little bounce in your step. Look ahead not behind!
  • Become and stay physically active. You need to be in good physical health in order to cross off those important goals on your bucket list. Staying active helps you stay well both physically and mentally.
  • Take a moment to appreciate what you do have in your life, whether it’s family, friends, a pet, a home or your health! The sun is shining for you today. When you can appreciate all the wonderful things in your life it makes it easier to face head on the challenges you have and take action to make them positives instead of negatives.
  • If your caregiving feels more like a burden than a blessing, it is time to seek help from you network. If your network isn’t helping, it is time to build on to it and find support. Depression, grief, loss and sadness will bog you down and keep you from having life in your years!

We don’t have to feel like our responsibilities or daily duties are burdening us and causing us to age prematurely. We can look at our life and cope with whatever we face. It might take a bit more introspection than you are used to doing especially when it is you that needs examination. There are a few things that we can plan into our day or find assistance along the way to gain a healthy perspective on our aging.

Since every year it seems our life expectancy only gets greater, it will help us to be focused on keeping the fun and life in our years! Make your golden years shine!