Unfortunately, there isn’t much about aging that we think of as positive in our culture. What a loss! Age-ist stereotypes have us living in fear of getting older. Equally limiting are the stereotypes of the wise, all-knowing elder who is calm and peaceful and serene. Or the age-defying, super-young oldster who will “never say die.”
A constructive definition
There is a constructive and realistic definition of aging. Each of us needs to define it for ourselves. It involves a recognition that despite—or perhaps because of—the challenges of growing old, we actually also tend to develop some amazing strengths.
Not everyone experiences all of these strengths. But studies interviewing hundreds of people of advanced years reveal many commonalities that deserve acknowledgement.
At this point in life, we know ourselves pretty well. We know who we are, how we fit in, and how we are unique. We know what we like, and what we don’t like. We know what we are good at doing, and what we aren’t.
There’s a certain confidence that comes with aging that is different from the confidence of youth. This is confidence based on experience. For instance, we know we have faced challenges in the past and made it through. We know we have skills we can draw upon. And we even know there are coping strategies we’ve tried in the past that we are better off avoiding in the future.
Self-acceptance The flip side of knowing who we are is knowing who we are not, and accepting that. “So I didn’t become a Nobel Laureate, oh well. Not a millionaire? That’s okay. An Olympic athlete? Gee.” Dreams of our youth were exciting, but we ended up going down different paths. And these paths gave us rich experiences we never would have dreamed of!
Less anxiety In our younger years, we tend to be filled with social anxiety. We worry about whether we will be able to live up to expectations. We care about what others think. By our later years, none of that matters so much.
“No one ever told me how nice it was to not be 20!” The confidence of experience and the reduced anxiety can open us up to trying new things. “What have I got to lose? Who cares if I don’t do it well, if I enjoy it, that’s what counts.”
“Don’t sweat the small stuff—and it’s all small stuff”
— Richard Carlson, author
Over the decades, we learn to trust our intuition. We know which of our reactions are fleeting and which have the ring of truth.
Brain studies show that older adults tend to be less emotionally “reactive” or volatile than people in their younger years. We tend to get more philosophical. Based on experience, we know that some hills are worth the battle to conquer, and others are not a hill to die on.
Losses bring opportunities
We know that some doors close, but often that is necessary for other doors to open. Losses usually carry the seeds of opportunity. We can often find a wider view. See a bigger picture. We are less fearful because we know we can adapt.
Wisdom: The wider view One of the advantages of a storehouse of experience is that we have exposure to many different situations. We can take a wider view because we have seen similar things happen in other circumstances. Lessons learned in one context can be applied to another. This is the basis of creative thinking. And it serves elders well.
The brain waves of wisdom Looking at the brain activity patterns, younger people tend to draw upon one hemisphere of the brain or the other. Older adults show more activity in both sides at once. There is a lot of energy being exchanged between the two hemispheres. As one scientist described it the older brain is in “all-wheel drive.”
Saying that all older adults are wise, would be untrue. But it may be that this sharing of information on many brain circuits explains the tendency for older adults to see a wider picture.
If younger adults were to project their perceptions of how happiness unfolds, they might tend to say that happiness is highest in youth and then it’s a downhill slide. (In fact, that is the dominant message or perception of aging in our society.) Research studies, however, are revealing a surprising contradiction.
Age more important than wealth Across all income levels, different races, urban/suburban and rural settings, there is an unmistakable trend in happiness. We are happiest as children, and then happiest in our old age. It’s the years in the middle where happiness is at its lowest. This has come to be called the “U-shape of happiness.”
Less emotionally reactive
Some of the likely explanations include greater self-acceptance as we get older, a reduction in social anxiety, less emotional reactivity, and the ability to take a wide view, to keep things in perspective. Older adults seem to be less angry and less worried than their younger counterparts.
The challenge of our middle years The middle part of our journey—the bottom of the “U”—is often focused on productivity. We are strongly involved in our careers. We may be raising children. There is a lot to do and a thrill in doing it. But it can be challenging and stressful to fit it all in. Time is a constant struggle. And there is always the question of whether we can perform up to specs, “cut the mustard” as it were.
The advantages of age In our older years, we either achieved or didn’t achieve our goals. There is little to worry about in terms of the unknown there. We may have pursued material comforts, only to learn that they were not as gratifying as we had thought. We learn that there is less that is 100% right or 100% wrong in the world. That most everything is made up of a little of both.
We are good at adapting At this point in the journey, Life has probably sent us a few curve balls. And if we aren’t experiencing health challenges yet, we likely have friends who are. It’s not hard to start seeing the glass as half full, rather than half empty.
With advancing years, very likely we have seen fortunes change in an instant. These could be our fortunes or those of others. We tend to become grateful for things that we used to take for granted. And we come to appreciate the problems we don’t have.
Death is no longer an abstraction.
In our later years, death becomes immensely personal and closer than it’s ever been before. We may not see it yet, but there is no doubt that it rests on our horizon. We may get there before we think. And at the least, we realize that we are lucky to have lived as long as we have.
The inner journey
The physical limitations of aging can almost seem like Nature’s way of forcing us to look inward. When the external journey is not as available, the internal one beckons. It can be a very deep and rewarding experience. Frequently it begins with reflection. And once one accepts the losses, whole vistas open up as possibilities when the glass is half full.
Compassion Compassion can become a more familiar companion as we age. We tend to be more understanding thank in our youth. Resentments we may have had about past grievances—with parents, spouses, children or friends—can seem less important.
Perhaps walking a mile in the shoes of others—elders in our own lives—lends new insight about their behavior. Opens up avenues for forgiveness. As well, our children may experience their own growing empathy and be able to reach out to interact as friends, dropping their image of us as the omnipotent parent.
Moving into our later decades, we tend to think a lot about the meaning of our life. We trade a focus on material accomplishments for time spent in gratifying pursuits. This might be a second career with a focus on fulfillment. It might mean volunteering for a cause we believe in.
When time is finite
Rather than a prelude to death, many older adults come to realize that advancing years bring life more fully into focus. While we all have a limited tenure on the planet, when we deeply recognize that our time is finite, we often start asking questions about how we want to use what time remains. No time like the present to identify priorities and start living by them!
There may be a bucket list of activities yet to pursue. However many focus specifically on their legacy. What do we want to be remembered for? Is there something larger that we can do that will extend beyond our time on the planet?
Living by example
“Am I a bulb that carries the light, or am I the light of which the bulb is only the vehicle?”
—Joseph Campbell, mythologist
Whether one still has physical abilities, or is limited more to living by example, there are tremendous opportunities to share our wisdom and insight. Even a person who is bedbound and not long for the world still has a light to shine. And for those fortunate enough to realize this while they still have strength and stamina, life in the later years—with all the advantages that come with age—can be extremely focused and fulfilling.
After my mom fell and broke her hip, I was alone in trying to figure out how to best care for her in this maze of what is the senior health care industry.I had been trying to pull together what felt like 1000 pieces of disparate information......places to see, insurance companies, doctors to call, forms to be filled out, questions to answer. I was completely overwhelmed and under much stress.I am so incredibly thankful that I finally called Bonnie and scheduled a consultation. She was clear, knowledgable and so understanding. She immediately started making phone calls to find out the answers to some of my questions, and knew the answers to the other ones.I ended up asking her for further help and I will be forever grateful I did.She helped me move through a very difficult time with her knowledge, presence and help. She was there when I needed her and she knew exactly what to do. And she is fair, compassionate and has great integrity.My mom is now in a perfect place for her, and it all happened with as much ease as was possible.Thank you Bonnie, and everyone else we interacted with at AZ CareManagement.I don't know how I would have managed this journey without you.
Bonnie and Bob at Arizona Care Management went way above and beyond in helping me place my sister in a care facility to live out her last few months. Bonnie set up a medical transport from Newport Oregon to Arizona so that my sister could spend her final days looking at the beautiful scenery she cherished so much as a park ranger. The home in Cottonwood was well staffed and professionally managed and Bonnie and Bob made sure everything ran smoothly as I am on the east coast and care coordination was difficult to manage for me. Thank you both again for all you have done for my sister and our family during this difficult time.
I own two assisted living homes in the area and have worked with Bonnie, Bob and their staff several times. They always have the best interest of their client in mind when finding a long term solution for the family. It has always been my pleasure to accept one of their clients into my home. They continue to stay in touch with the family and assist them with any need they might have.If you are in need of an Elder Care advisor, I wholeheartedly recommend Arizona Care Management Solutions! If you live out of our area, you can count on them to fill in when you can't be here in person!
I live in Massachusetts and my 92 year old dad lived in Sedona. I was called in to take over his care because he could no longer live independently. I literally did not know where to turn. A social worker recommended Bonnie and her team to me. What a relief. They helped me get the necessary paperwork to handle his affairs while also finding him a safe and loving environment where he got the care he needed. He thrived there for nearly 6 months. During that time, I was kept abreast of his health and care by Holly. He enjoyed his visits with her and the treats she brought with her! I highly recommend Arizona Care Management to anyone needing help with their loved ones. They are excellent and I’m so glad they were recommended to me.
As the owners of GENERATIONS SENIOR LIVING LLC, we have the opportunity to work with Bonnie, Bob and the rest of the team at AZ Care Management Solutions with some frequency. Bonnie is absolutely the hardest working person we know! She has the knowledge base and the support team behind her to truly advocate for your loved one and they do a very good job! From assisting with POA paperwork, in-home care, assisting with MD appointments, or actual placement of your family member into a facility...... these guys can get it done!!! We highly recommend them.... Josh and Jamie Elliott
Most of us do not have any experience or training on how to make decisions or select assisted living accommodations. This group was a life saver in selecting a care giver, legal restructuring and finding a home. This was my first time dealing with dementia and I was guided down the path with their professional staff.
When I was having a hard time getting my dad's assisted living place to respond to his needs Gina stepped in with a firm hand and made things happen on Dad's behalf. She is kind, dedicated, tenacious, and extremely experienced and knowledgeable in this field. Bonnie has helped facilitate communication between me and a family member from whom I am estranged to make sure that all family members have access to the information about Dad that they want to have. AZ Care Management has been absolutely VITAL to me in helping me get difficult things done for Dad. I can't imagine navigating these challenging waters without them.
When our daughter was moved to Cottonwood for more extensive care, my husband and I were not able to travel for frequent dr. visits. We were not able, because we are both in our 80s, to visit as frequently as we wanted. AZ Cares takes her to appointments. They also provide very personable and capable assistants who take her on outings to provide social and emotional support for her in our absence. I cannot praise them enough for the support and help they have given our daughter and us. They are a blessing to us!
Arizona Care Management Solutions did a great job keeping my mom as safe as possible in her home for the last year. Once Gina came on board, she managed to do what I thought would be impossible - she convinced my mom to transition to living arrangements that would provide the care she really needed! Gina held her hand every step of the way, even through some VERY challenging situations. This lady has a heart of gold and can get things done!
As a Geriatrics/Internal Medicine specialist I relied on Bonnie and staffto find the best outpatient care for our patients. Her heart is passionate for the care of our seniors, and regards that as her mission in life. And I wasalways confident that Care Management Solutions would find the bestoptions for our families. God bless her! Dr. Paul C. Hanson of Cottonwood Internal Medicine
Bonnie, Bob and the team at AZ Care Management Solutions simply go above and beyond as advocates for seniors. Whether you may need assistance coordinating care, evaluating local facilities for placement, creating a plan for aging well or many other elder care services, you will find no organization more qualified or prepared to assist you than AZ Care Management Solutions. As a local Medicare insurance broker for several years, it is paramount that my clients have the right people in their corner. I have - and will continue to - recommend Bonnie and Bob and their team to any of my clients without hesitation.