Famously, the late actor Bette Davis had an embroidered pillow on display for all who came to visit. It said, “Old Age Ain’t for Sissies.” Not one to suffer fools gladly, it is no surprise that she looked at aging this way.
When we enter this later phase of life, we experience certain losses that can’t really be avoided. However, keeping a sense of control over our lives is a particularly important factor in how successfully we age.
An important study by Harvard researchers, conducted in a nursing home, is a case in point. One group of residents took charge of their daily living activities, including dressing, eating, personal hygiene and maintaining their own environments. A second group had all these functions taken care of for them by staff. One group had a sense of purpose about their days, the other not so much.
Results from this research indicated that those in the first group were more alert, active and happier. Further, it was found that a year and a half later after the main study concluded, 15% of the first group had died, compared to 30% of the second group.
What can we take away from this? The opportunity to make choices increases our sense of personal power and control. While folks who are older deserve our love, attention and support, the more we take over the business of living for them, the more they will come to need our help. The less they will be able to do for themselves, and the faster their decline will be into helplessness.
Watch for a well-intentioned but misguided desire to be helpful that tempts you to take over for your friends and relatives who are older. Instead, support their efforts to take care of themselves and you will be empowering them to live longer, happier lives.
Oh yes, and remember this when the day comes, and you are considered “senior.” Maintain your opportunities to choose. Take control now, and keep control for your future!