By Mary Reitano
“Grow old with me! The best is yet to be!” Robert Browning
“Inevitable” changes related to aging may be preventable. Many people assume that, as they age, they will no longer be able to do things they enjoy. We need to question what we tell ourselves about aging and our ability to work, love, play and stay healthy.
Dr. Kenneth Cooper wrote Regaining the Power of Youth at Any Age. He challenged false assumptions about physical decline. He started weight-lifting programs for people in their 80’s and 90’s and increased muscle tone. His book features “a scientifically based program that will guide you to a higher level of physical and mental fitness than you may have believed impossible to attain.” 1
If you believe in unavoidable decline as you age, it could be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy identifies cognitive fallacies and how to correct them.
One fallacy is “all or nothing” thinking. For example, if someone can no longer drive a golf ball 250 yards, they might think they should stop playing golf. In truth, while drives may be shorter, mature players can improve accuracy, chipping and putting to stay competitive.
Generativity or Stagnation?
Psychologist Erik Erikson’s model of development shows ongoing growth throughout life. He identified eight stages for humans, from birth to old age. The seventh stage is Generativity versus Stagnation, when people aim to “create or nurture things that will outlast them, often by parenting children or contributing to positive changes that benefit other people…. Generativity refers to ‘making your mark’ on the world through caring for others as well as creating and accomplishing things that make the world a better place. Stagnation refers to the failure to find a way to contribute.” 2 For this reason, many adults make mid-life career changes to pursue more meaningful careers.
Not all aspects of intellectual capacity decline with aging. Cattell and Horn identified fluid versus crystallized intelligence. “Fluid intelligence begins to decrease after adolescence; crystallized intelligence continues to increase throughout adulthood…. Crystallized intelligence involves knowledge… from prior learning and past experiences (and) peaks much later in life, hitting its apex around age 60 or 70.” 3 Remember, Harland Sanders started Kentucky Chicken at age 65. Benjamin Franklin invented bifocals at age 76. Dr. Walter Watson practiced medicine at age 100.
Social and Emotional Health
Old age does not have to be lonely. Cultivating a supportive community of friends and family reduces the risk of isolation. Some people move to retirement communities for social interaction, while others live close to family. “Aging gracefully” includes acceptance and forgiveness. Dealing constructively with the past can prevent bitterness. A good book about regrets is Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda: Overcoming Regrets, Mistakes, and Missed Opportunities by Freeman and DeWolf. Cognitive Behavior Therapy principles are used to address immobilizing memories of the past.4 It is also important to play. Playing with young children or pets and watching funny movies contribute to emotional health. Playwright George Bernard Shaw wrote “You don’t stop laughing when you grow old, you grow old when you stop laughing.”
Mary Reitano is a Licensed Professional Counselor Associate focusing on positive psychology and a holistic approach that addresses emotional, relational mental physical and spiritual health.
1 Amazon.com review of Regaining the Power of Youth at Any Age, by Kenneth Cooper, MD.
2 “Generativity Versus Stagnation” by Kendra Cherry, Psychology Expert, from psychology.com website, updated December 24, 2015.
3 “Fluid Intelligence vs. Crystallized Intelligence” by Kendra Cherry, Psychology Expert, updated July 21, 2015
4 Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda: Overcoming Regrets, Mistakes, and Missed Opportunities by Freeman and DeWolf