Is there something positive about aging? We have previously tackled the topic of aging being considered a disease to be dreaded that needs treatment. In our current society, youth is revered and staying young as long as possible is the goal of many. But there are some upsides to being old. According to Stanford University researcher Laura Carstensen, there are so many things that older people can do better. They may not be up to running a marathon or taking on the catwalk but they are much, much better in “regulating their feelings and working on their social relationships” than the younger generation. This is despite age-related lapses like mild memory loss and cognitive impairment.
“It seems that wisdom, or being able to solve practical problems of everyday living, improves. So a lot of what we think of as being smart in life involve processes that get better with age, not worse.”
says Dr. Carstensen in a lecture at the National Institutes of Health.
In fact, the escapades and tragedies of young celebrities (Lindsay Lohan, Brittany Murphy, and Tiger Woods) may occupy the headlines but there are those who have survived and transcended the wildness of their youth to become wise. Sir Sean Connery turned 80 this week and Clint Eastwood is still directing The wild rockers of the 60s have mellowed down but still jamming and rocking in their 60s and 70s are Ringo Starr, Bob Dylan, Paul Simon and Mick Jagger and their fans of similar age still rave about them (see NYT article Turn 70. Act Your Grandchild’s Age). But are these guys the exception rather than the rule?
“[The 80s is] …now seen as an active time of life: you’re just past retirement, that’s your time to explore and play mentally”
Experts are concerned that these stories of still active and kicking septuagenarians may give a false picture of old age. They say there the risk “that in celebrating the remarkable stories, we make those not playing Radio City, and certainly those suffering the diseases that often accompany old age, feel inadequate.”
Mindset is important in aging.
One mindset, according to Anne Basting, the director of the Center on Age and Community at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee:
The flipside is, according to S. Jay Olshansky, a demographer at the University of Illinois at Chicago:
I’d say, let us be pragmatic and take all these with a grain of salt. I remember a couple of years back when England’s queen mother turned 100, my husband’s grandma commented: “If she had cleaned all the windows in her house all by herself, she wouldn’t have lived this long.” Well, our beloved grandma will be celebrating her 90th birthday in a couple of weeks and she is still cleaning her windows all by herself.