A few years ago, while attending my grandson’s birthday party, I fell. I didn’t break any bones but the pain in my back was debilitating for a week.
My grandson’s birthday party took place at the Ford Ice Center in Antioch, Tennessee. I was on ice skates when I fell.
Now, let me explain.
I grew up in Pennsylvania and during the winter, ice skating was a regular part of my life. I skated on frozen ponds, rivers, and lakes with family and friends. And when it wasn’t cold enough to freeze waterways, I went to an ice-skating rink. I never was a Scott Hamilton, but I could hold my own on the ice.
While I hadn’t been on skates in more than 20 years, I knew how to skate. On this particular day, I rented a pair of unfitted ice skates. When I got on the ice, my legs buckled. I landed hard on my back in front of my grandson, his friends, and their parents!
A fall carries with it great vulnerability, embarrassment, and humiliation. It puts our humanity in perspective — especially as an older adult — that is not easily forgotten.
There is the void as we age between who we feel we are on the inside and what we are actually capable of doing. This perspective, one of three related to aging, is referred to as our functional age.
Perspectives Related to Aging
- Chronological age is measured from birth and refers to how old you are in years. “I will be 65 on my next birthday” or “I am 73 years old” are examples of chronological age.
- Subjective age is based on individual perception and refers to how old you feel. “I start out slow in the morning when I first wake up, but as the day goes on, I feel energetic and almost young again” is an example of subjective age.
- Functional age surmises an individual’s age based on functional ability and refers to what you can do at your age. “At 75, I still run in the Nashville 5K race” or “After I walk up the front steps, I must sit down for a few minutes before proceeding into the house” are examples of functional age.
I refuse to give into the view that aging is nothing but decline. Are there things I can no longer do? Absolutely! But there were things I couldn’t do when I was a child and I didn’t think my life was in decline. I hurt myself as a child, youth, and young adult and yet I never thought that my life was going downhill. But as we get older, that is one of the first things that come into our minds.
The same can be said about so-called senior moments. I have, at times, gotten up from my desk in my office and walked into the kitchen only to have forgotten what I went into the kitchen to get. Is my mind failing me?
No. If I think about it, I realize I had a thousand things on my mind when I got up from my chair and made my way into the kitchen. After a moment, I remember what it was that I wanted.
As a young person, I had similar experiences. Why is it called a senior moment when it’s something that can happen at any age?
Unless one has dementia, mild cognitive impairment, or some other cognitive issue, memory lapses can occur at any age. Our chronological age has little to do with this experience.
Many authorities agree aging has both good and bad points — both positive and negative experiences. In today’s society with its emphasis on youth and beauty, aging may seem entirely negative. And yet, every day we encounter people — often much older than ourselves — who are living remarkable and exciting adventures. Ageism holds us in fear of our future and prevents us from living fully alive.
I agree with Dr. Daniel Levitin who, in his book Successful Aging, says “Aging is a unique developmental stage that – like infancy or adolescence – brings with it its own demands and its own advantages.” I believe that being old is neither inherently good nor bad but rather a signifier of being long-lived.
I suspect that one of the most common myths associated with aging is that life is steady growth and then takes a steep dive downhill. We have to begin replacing the model for aging which insists that life is a graph that goes up and up to some zenith and then goes down and down to the bitter end. Tracey Gendron in Ageism Unmasked writes, “There is nothing shameful about being old, acting old, and looking old. Having age pride is a critical step in the journey to later-life empowerment.”
As we grow older, we may find ourselves slowing down — physically and mentally. We may discover that the things we want to do are constricted by physical and mental limitations. However, attitude and lifestyle can play a greater role in aging than do our genes. As Levitin points out, “Your genes give you a kind of life script with only the most general things sketched out. And from there, you can improvise.”
In defining aging, there’s a saying (author unknown): “Age is merely the number of years the world has been enjoying you.” I like that.
To Reframe Aging in Your Life
- Learn to cope with change
- Find meaning and purpose
- Stay connected with others
- Make healthy eating choices
- Engage in lifelong learning
- Give generously of your time and talents
- Advocate for yourself and health treatment options
- Grow in love with God
- Ignore ageism, especially self-imposed ageism
Although aging is a biological process, it is also deeply social, spiritual, and psychological. If we reframe aging and discount the myth that aging is a downhill trip, then we affirm that life can be an exciting adventure through the decades. Instead of the decline model which is so prevalent in our society, affirm aging – your own and others. Hear the words of Robert Browning, who wrote:
“Grow old along with me!
The best is yet to be,
the last of life for which the first was made….”
Dr. Richard Gentzler, director, oversees ENCORE Ministry’s mission of providing older adult ministry resources, leader training, and consultations. For more information, email Gentzler at email@example.com or call 615-400-0539.