Successful Aging

Today 215 people reach age 100 everyday in the US!

Successful aging is multidimensional; there are three components:

  • Good Health, low risk of disease, and disability
  • High mental and physical functioning
  • Sustained engagement with social life, and productive activities

All three components are important, but one doesn’t have to have all three to be successful. People live highly productive lives with paralysis, blindness, and chronic physical diseases like cancer or Parkinson’s disease. Even people with dementia can perform amazing contributions to others. For example, there is an ongoing study of 678 Catholic nuns who donated their brains to science. The study which is now referred to as the Nun Study, started with nuns born before 1917 and focused on Alzheimers. Within that study there is a special group who during their autopsy had the same pathology in the brain, but show no symptoms of the disease.

It is important to recognize that there are many differences among us all. Many myths exist that distort the truth about aging, and limit ones thinking about what their lives could look like at 70, 80, 90, or more. Let’s examine some of those myths:

Myth #1 Old people are sick, frail, disabled, and/or depressed

With all the medical research today, chronic illnesses can be controlled and don’t have to threaten one’s independence. Only 5% of people end up in a nursing home today. Many diseases can be avoided or delayed, and have a minimized affect on your body. Recently one of my family members was diagnosed with stage 3 cancer. It shook our whole family’s world. We immediately thought it was a death sentence. After exploring all of the new treatments, medicines, and therapies, however, we came to understand that it is possible to live a quality life with cancer for years. This reality didn’t exist 25 years ago.

Myth #2 You can’t teach an old dog new tricks

We can all learn to use technology, learn a foreign language, and can even go back to college and get a degree. Strong mental capacity can be increased through regular physical exercise, strong self-confidence in one’s ability to handle life with all the ups and downs, and a vibrant and supportive social life. These are all choices that one can make.

Myth #3 It’s too late!

It is never too late to start exercising, quit smoking, or to find new friends. You can also recover strength, flexibility, and mental functioning with better health practices. People have to battle to protect their brains and their bodies.

Myth #4 It’s in the genes!

Genetics play less of a factor in mental and physical functioning, than environment and lifestyle. We often believe we are victims of our genetics.

Myth #5 The lights may be on, but they are dim!

It is true that some mental processes do slow down i.e. speed of processing information, and recall of names, numbers, or locations. However, brain research shows that some brain functions actually improve in old age.

There are other myths. Yet, there are many truths that can affect how we plan and live our lives. You don’t have to be lonely. You don’t have to be confined, and cut off from the fun that life offers. You don’t have to rely on your family to make your life meaningful, and you don’t have to do it alone.