Don’t let stereotypes make you feel old

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By Joan Martin

How old do you want to be? When children or teens are asked that question, they usually want to be older than they are, maybe 12, 16, 18 or 21.
The answer varies depending on their current age. But how old do you want to be?
I’m planning on a healthy 100. It’s in my genes. I come from strong German ancestors who lived a long time: 104, 102 and 99 + 11 months. My aunt almost made it to 100.
Before you embrace aging as a good thing, you may need to check your attitude. You can sit around thinking about what doesn’t work anymore, or dwell over the meaning of existence and how time is running out but these scenarios are not going to allow you to age successfully. Maintaining a positive attitude is necessary for optimal aging. If you need an attitude adjustment or just a tune-up on your already positive outlook, here are four strategies to think about.
First accept change. There are some things that you can influence and there are others that you can’t do anything about.
Next, get over negative stereotypes. Ageism is negative stereotyping of older adults. Why be prejudiced against older people? You will be either old (at least to someone) or will be old by the definition set by society: 65-plus. Remember that to a 15-year-old, a 45-year-old is really old. My idea of aging has expanded to think that middle age begins about age 45 and goes to 65, mature age is 65 to 85 and older age begins at 86. What do you think? Do you feel old according to your stereotype?
Third, watch out for depression. The difficult changes that many older adults face – such as the death of a spouse, loss of independence, and health problems – can lead to depression, especially in those without a strong support system. But depression is not a normal or necessary part of aging. Depression symptoms such as aches and pains and fatigue are often overlooked in the elderly. This is dangerous, because depression increases the risk of illness, death and suicide. It’s important to learn how to spot and treat depression in older adults.
Frequently mature adults who have had significant health issues believe that they won’t recover and they won’t have a healthy life ahead of them. The New England Centenarian Study found that 42 percent of centenarians (age 100-plus years) were survivors who had significant clinically demonstrable disease(s) prior to the age of 80 years. There are 1,600-plus centenarians in the study. Among the group studied is the largest sample in the world of super centenarians (age 110-plus years.) There are about 107 of these oldest of the old subjects in the New England Centenarian Study.
Request a summary of the study from the Anderson County Extension Office or look for it online.
There are several predictors of reaching 100. Four of these predictors are: Substantial smoking history is rare. Centenarians are better able to handle stress than the majority of people.
Conceiving naturally and bearing children after age 35 and even 40 years is a predictor for women to live to 100-plus. It probably isn’t the act of bearing a child in one’s 40s that promotes long life, but rather the indication that the woman’s reproductive system is aging slowly and the rest of her body is as well. At least 50 percent of centenarians have a first-degree relative and/or grandparents who also achieve very old age, and many have exceptionally old siblings.
How can you practice healthy aging? Follow these 12 healthy behavior practices: positive attitude, physical activity, smart healthy eating, brain health, social activity, tune-in to the times, safety, know your health numbers, stress management, finances, sleep and taking a timeout for yourself.
Embracing Life as You Age is an upcoming program on Jan. 30 at 10 a.m. at the Anderson County Extension Office. Call 839-7271 to register for the free program.

Joan Martin is a family and consumer sciences agent for the Anderson County Extension.