“Old” – a Number or a State?

Today in my Community and Public Health class, we discussed old age. This topic is definitely not one of my favorites, and for a bittersweet reason. The sweet is that my family has very good genetics: no one anywhere in my family tree (that I’m aware of – specifically up to great-grandparents) has ever smoked, led a sedentary lifestyle, there’s only one case of diabetes, no one has had cancer, and no one has died of causes other than old age, except my Granddaddy, who died in a car crash. I am fortunate to have these well-aging genes (knock on wood), and I also make a point to be healthy now to have an even better last few years on Earth.

The bitter is that I’m pretty sure I’m going to outlive my spouse, and a lot of my friends. And my parents. And my grandparents. Okay, as obvious as that sounds, the deaths of those I love are the last thing I ever want to be an aspect of my life, yet I know it’s inevitable. It’s a part of anyone’s life, and I am going to have to learn how to cross that bridge when I come to it. (However, I must confess that my most paralyzing fear is outliving my spouse. I honestly don’t even know how I’m going to function after that. But, like I said, I can’t worry about this now, and all I can do to help it is take care of my significant other and invite him to work out with me and such.)

Anyways, back to the topic at hand. My professor posed a few questions to us regarding our perspective about old age. One was, “what do you want your future as an elder to look like?” Personally, I want to be a constant source of encouragement, an amazing cook, always opening my home to friends and family, active, able, and joyful. I know I do not want my future to look like wheelchairs, needing help getting out of a chair, having a metal railing in my shower or by my bed, walkers, or nursing homes. If I ever have to ask for help out of a chair, it will break my heart. That’s not how I ever want my life to look, and I think the way I live now is evidence to that in how I take care of myself.

“What’s important to you?” – My capability, and my loved ones. These values don’t compete; I can value and grow and enhance my personal capability, while taking care of and inviting/encouraging my loved ones to do the same.

“What age do you define as old, and why?” – Personally, I define “old” as fragile, probably sad on some level (even just an inner sadness), incapability, dependence, sedentary, and alone. “Old” to me is a state, not an age. My mother’s mother is in her mid sixties and I don’t think she can ever get old. She’s constantly going, having fun, doing something, planning something, learning something, going somewhere, and with people. And I think that’s great. She says she doesn’t ever want to slow down because then she’ll get old and lazy. I would have to say that I agree with her mentality.

“Do you fear getting old? Why or why not?” – I’m not anxious about getting old, but at the same time, I’m not looking forward to it. Like I said previously, I don’t want to go through deaths of my loved ones, and I don’t want to be dependent and fragile, but I can only do what I can do at my current age to keep them around as long as possible. I know I will find ways to cope and adjust when those times come – people have been for centuries – and I just have to trust that God will give me the strength and support system when I need it.

How do you define old age? Are you afraid of it? What do you want your elder years to look like?
Do you think old age is a number or a state? Share your thoughts! =]

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