For some, the term “old age” drives a depressing picture of sitting in front of the TV, watching minutes tick by. The term “senior” doesn’t typically help much, either. The challenge is in thinking of this time as one of adventure, self-expression and possibility. It is difficult to think of the later portion of life in this vital way when the society we live in doesn’t seem to agree.
We certainly don’t see many role models of lively, intelligent old people in the media (well, except for Betty White), and our culture continues to be dominated by images of youth. Ask anyone in advertising or marketing, and they will tell you the demographic they covet is 18- to 25-year-olds, and male at that.
The fact is that life expectancy is up from 45 years in 1900, to an average of 79.38 years (estimated in the U.S.A.) in 2019. (There was a bit of a drop in 2020.) It’s even higher in Canada (82.11 years – 81.95 in 2020) and Australia (82.75 years)! In a report released on August 1, 2013, the World Health Organization reported that the “dramatic” gains in life expectancy show no signs of slowing down (as reported by Reuters). Even with the devastating effects of the global pandemic, things are definitely changing.
Of course, there is still the likelihood of some physical decline as we age, but many older people are discovering that their mental health is more important to them. They tend to shrug off their aches and pains and concentrate instead on growth and development in other areas. And since neuroscientists have discovered that while the brain may slow down, it does not stop growing as long as it’s active (Alzheimer’s and dementia notwithstanding).
Older folks become much more spiritually aware and keenly interested in things outside of themselves. Some go back to school, others become involved in a community or family project. They do not see the changes happening all around them as threatening. Rather, they respond to change with flexibility, a sense of purpose, and lots of patience with themselves. They want to control their own lives, make their own choices, and stay involved with meaningful activities long after they “retire.”
This sounds like an effective way to live at any age, and is not a bad role model, either. In the words of C. S. Lewis, “You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.” Think of it not as life expectancy, but living expectantly.