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5 reasons why you should not fear aging

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March 26th, 2013
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How you view your aging is your choice,” says Karen Kansler, MA, RN, BSN, community outreach nurse for MedStar Good Samaritan Hospital in Baltimore, Md. “You don’t have to be influenced by a youth-obsessed culture. Today’s seniors are viewing old age in a different way than their parents did, and research on seniors and aging reveals many reasons why this life stage can in fact be something to look forward to.”

1. Your experience is valuable

Seniors acquire a substantial amount of knowledge, perspective, and experience throughout their lives and are finding more ways to share what they know. “Retirement is not what it used to be,” Kansler says. “Many people stay employed full- or part-time. Some build on their experience and embark on new careers.”

If you want to volunteer, experts say you don’t have to look far. “Senior volunteer opportunities are increasing in a variety of settings, including museums, zoos, hospitals, and even within assisted living facilities,” says Forrest Hong, PhD, LSCW, CMC, chair of the National Association of Social Workers Aging Specialty Practice Section Committees.

Experience Corps is a unique volunteer program that trains older adults to tutor children from economically challenged schools. While this program (which can be found in 19 U.S. cities) is designed to benefit children and help you gain a sense of purpose, it may also boost your cognitive health. A study of the program’s tutors over time showed that they improved in a number of functional areas, including time management, organizing, and remembering details.

2. With age comes happiness

The stereotype of the crotchety elder is just that—a stereotype. Several studies have demonstrated that, in fact, the oldest adults are the happiest. One University of Chicago study that got a lot of attention followed a representative sample of Americans for a period of 30 years. Their happiness levels were measured through all the ups and downs of life. The researchers found that the likelihood of feeling happy and satisfied with life increases 5% with every ten years of age.

The reasons for this are multifold. Seniors are more likely to have accepted their achievements and have more realistic expectations. Other research has revealed that older adults are more socially active than many of their younger counterparts. “Staying connected with others helps today’s seniors maintain a sense of happiness and contentment,” Kansler says.

3. The best anti-aging medicine is free and easy to take

No more fruitless searches for the magic pill. Experts the world over have already found it. “Regular exercise is the best way to combat the disability and infirmity that can come with old age,” says Vrinda Suneja, M.D., medical director at Fox Run, an Erickson Living community in Novi, Mich. “Along with the physical benefits, there are also proven cognitive and emotional benefits—an 80-year-old can achieve the same level of well-being as a 60-year-old if that person is physically active.”

Older adults have more choices than previous generations when it comes to exercise. “There’s been a growth in yoga, Pilates, and other classes that place emphasis on creating flexibility and strength while also keeping our mind and body in sync,” Hong says.

4. Medical advances make it possible to live a better quality life

“The practice of medicine has changed to a prevention focus,” Suneja says. “Early detection and treatment of disease are essential for maintaining independent functioning and to keep people feeling happy and well.”

Heart disease treatment, for instance, has come a long way. “There are more minimally invasive techniques available with regard to cardiac surgery,” says John Wang, M.D., chief of the cardiac catheterization lab at MedStar Union Memorial Hospital in Baltimore, Md. “Even an aortic [heart] valve can now be replaced in a catheterization lab instead of the operating room. Patients can go home after a very short hospital stay with only a tiny incision.”

For many in previous generations, having arthritis meant you were sure to be disabled. “Today, improved developments in how arthritis is managed help keep seniors active and in much less pain,” Suneja says. “We have better medications and more effective joint replacements.”

5. You have more choices than ever before

Technology and trends in aging services alone have created numerous choices for how older adults can live and thrive. “Technological innovations help seniors stay in touch with loved ones, live more comfortably, and stay better informed about their health,” Suneja says.

Senior-specific services are becoming more readily available. “Based on current trends, families and individuals will have more options available to them with respect to where they spend the remaining time of their life,” Hong says. “The concept of assisted living continues to grow, and these facilities are more comprehensive in design and include a variety of levels of care.”

“Getting older is no longer about winding down,” Kansler says. “We’ve learned a lot—the aging experience today is all about learning and living well.”

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