Isn’t it a great occurrence now that many of our neighborhoods are becoming an integration of generations? On my very own street are five generations. The residents range from WWII, the Silent Gen, the Boomers, Gen X, and now a new couple from the Milleminums. What’s also wonderful is that monthly, they get together for ‘Happy Hour’ sharing and exchanging their experiences along with their continued personal goals. In last month’s soiree our local hero, who survived the Burma Road in WWII, shared his secrets to successful aging. He said, “My keystone to positive aging with dignity is staying connected to today’s events. And even though my grandchildren think I have passed my prime, I make it a point to be able to converse with them, and my peer group, on what is vital to today’s political & social environments. As long as I’m still living, I still matter!”
It’s interesting that he should use the word keystone. A keystone is the architectural piece at the crown of a vault or arch, marking its apex and locking the other pieces into position. This makes a keystone very important structural piece.
Traditionally our society has defined aging as a negative process leading to demise. We have been conditioned to value youth, physical prowess, and physical attractiveness. These characteristics may diminish as we age. As the Age Wave washes over the globe, this view will be challenged by those unwillingly to settle for this disparaging view of aging. Positive ageing or as we term it, strategic aging, are terms used to describe the course of maintaining an affirmative outlook, feeling upbeat about yourself, keeping vigorous; and, engaging fully in life at any age you may achieve.
Countless times we have found that the residence the aging choose to stay in, or move to, did not help distinguish what they want to be now. We have heard them exclaim for freedom. “We want to live vitally only differently now”. These men and women were finding that their adult children had specific images of what was appropriate for them to do and undertake at ‘their age’. Along with their children’s limiting beliefs, there were also distinct descriptions from the media and sometimes, from their individual cultures. These images were restrictive for them in that the Elders were feeling that they should now be liberated from the constraints of social image, club associations, and professional status. This freedom enables them to tap into their own creative powers for the most meaningful years of their lives.
Ageing can be associated with many rewarding experiences. It is also a period when significant changes might occur. Some experience changes in physical functioning, the decrease of social contacts, loss of employment; and even, bereavement can become routine. Those who face these occurrences knowing that they are transitory, live longer and healthier lives. A recent study conducted by Dr. Suzanne Kunkel, director of the Scripps Gerontology Center, shows the importance of a positive attitude about aging. Quoting Dr. Kunkel, “People’s perception of aging predicted the length of their survival.” In her prospective study “the median survival of those in the positive self-perceptions of aging groups was seven and a half years longer than those in the more negative perceptions.”
What are some keystones to successful aging? Use any of these areas to enhance your quality of life:
• Self respect & self esteem are the most important ingredients involved in the dignity of aging. There is no age limit at either end of the generational ranges where these qualities are not essential. Remember that our society’s worldview can cause us to be engaged differently than you were when you were 25. This does not indicate that you are dismissed or that you are seen as a second-class people.
• A self-nourishing attitude is the way you think about yourself, affecting how you view life and the degree to which you become involved in activities and new opportunities. Making informed choices, demonstrating control over the important elements of your life such as, health decisions and choosing specific social communities, can add new experiences for you at any age.
• Social interaction and relationships with others are associated with vibrant aging and embracing optimism about life. Maintaining networks through social affiliations, engaging in voluntary work, involvement in some physical activity prevents isolation and promotes prime intellectual health.
• Keeping the brain supple can promote good mental clarity throughout your lifespan. Maintaining an active mind can be as simple as learning a new hobby or playing the math game Suko. Learning a new language is an exercise that makes the brain form new neural networks keeping you sharp.
• Stress is a natural component of life that can be challenging to manage, especially if you are a primary caregiver for someone else. It will be critical to add additional resources to avoid burnout, isolation, illness, and depression. High levels of stress can affect physical well being, the quality of personal relationships; even, your financial decision making.
• Many people of all ages find volunteer employment or civic engagement rewarding and a chance to give a contribution back into the community. Use your innovation to find the type of work that can provide a collective public philosophy for you outside of the home and immediate family.
When you catch yourself feeling negatively about aging, ask yourself:
• What are the activities that you have not been engaged in because you are afraid of peer disapproval or adult children frowning on your participation? How much longer can you deny yourself a fulfilling experience such as, tutoring children to read, visiting Veterans at a medical facility, or assisting the local Sierra Club to restore a community park?
• Are there physical practices that you want to begin that would improve your physical appearance and reduce stress? What is stopping you, other than finances, fear of spouse approval, fear of community disapproval or perhaps an unfair assessment from your culture or faith?
• Are you waiting on someone else to make decisions to plan your potential activities? What stops you from taking control over planning the future use of your individual time and resources?
• How can you re-evaluate your core values, that you may have been reared under, that limit your decisions of opportunities for who you truly are today? How can you discard any guilt over ‘breaking out’ of the family unit or social practices in pursuing your life’s direction now?

“Nobody grows old merely by living a number of years. We grow old by deserting our ideals. Years may wrinkle the skin, but to give up enthusiasm wrinkles the soul. “
Samuel Ullman

Author's Bio: 

Bradley Morgan is a corporate and ontological coach who served as a hi-tech executive for over 17 years, in companies such as, IBM, Bay Networks, Premysis, and Brocade Communications. Bradley’s credentials include a BS from Georgia Tech, a MS from UCLA, a certificate in gerontology from the University of Boston (CGP); and a Professional Coaching Certification (PCC) through the Newfield Network program. In the telecommunications industry, she developed both domestic and international systems engineering teams for technical expertise and executive level leadership. Bradley is a member of the International Coaching Federation (ICF), American Management Associates (AMA), the American Society on Aging (ASA); and the American Parkinson’s Disease Association (APDA).

And, Bradley is also the Founder and President of a non profit company that specifically coaches American Indian students. The Looks Within Foundation is committed to the best in transitional coaching for these students from their reservation life; and, selects candidates from all tribal nations for scholarship funds in higher education. Bradley is a featured speaker at many of the student councils within the tribal nations.