Fear of getting older is something we all cope with from time to time. While there is not one secret formula for aging gracefully with dignity, there are some eventualities we all must face. We cannot reverse the aging process, but we can slow it down with shifts in our mindset and lifestyle. Rather than feeling sad and depressed about getting older, embracing some of the following ideas can make a meaningful difference in your quality of life as you age.
Expect the expected
There will be physical changes during the aging process. Our hair will thin, or energy level will be reduced, and our skin will probably not be as tight. There will be lifestyle changes as we get older. We probably will stop working either by choice or retirement policies, and we may not live near our children and grandchildren. If we view the aging process with negativity and are unable to accept these inevitable changes, we increase the risks of stress, depression, and denial. It is never too late to imagine, plan, and behave in ways that makes 80 and over just another chapter in life to which we can look forward.
What (who) does 80 look like?
Picture the relevance and vibrancy of people like Sophia Loren, Gloria Steinem, Nancy Pelosi, Julie Andrews, Robert Redford, Patrick Stewart, Carol Burnett, Betty White, Lily Tomlin, Desmond Tutu, and Queen Elizabeth. Folk artist “Grandma” Moses started painting at the age of 78. At 95, President Jimmy Carter still was building homes for Habitat for Humanity with his wife Rosalynn!
Flip the statistics
Facts about getting older always seem to focus on how many seniors have some type of illness, disability, or disadvantage. Flip those statistics and see the glass half full—optimistically, the odds are usually in your favor. For example:
- 91 percent of US seniors do not live in poverty. i
- 97 percent of Americans aged 75-84 live at home, not in a facility.
- 87 percent of Americans over age 85 live at home, not in a facility. ii
- 76 percent of people over 80 have no trouble getting out of a chair.
- 48 percent of people over 80 have no more than three chronic conditions.
- 28 percent of people over 80 take three or fewer medications.
- 20 percent of people over 80 feel as active as they did ten years ago.
- More than half of seniors over 80 share a home with others.
By changing your perspective, it is easier to see that the life you want is not only possible, it is within your reach.
Steps to preserve a great quality of life
Some other ways to hedge your journey for a happier and healthier 80 years and beyond:
- Guard your access to good medical care. Be savvy about your medical insurance: what it covers, what requires prior authorization, what Medicare will or will not cover, affordable secondary insurance and long term care insurance. See your internist on a regular basis and be honest about any changes in how you feel. Bring in all your medications, including over-the-counter drugs and supplements, at least once a year.
- Stay physically active. “Ugh” you say, and I get it. But the reality is it’s never too late to start a fitness regimen to build muscle strength, flexibility, and balance and to ward off depression and chronic conditions like heart disease and dementia. Walking, weights, yoga, and any aerobic exercise is helpful and can make a big difference in your quality of life.
- Eat a balanced diet. If you have not heard this before, you haven’t been listening! Enough said on this topic. You know what a balanced diet is or is not. But drinking water is something that people tend to ignore as they age, and it has surprising health effects—don’t forget to make daily fluid intake a key habit.
- Stay socially active with your current friends, neighbors, community groups, volunteer and religious organizations, or find new ones.
- Be a lifelong learner. Keep trying new things to keep your mind sharp and bring meaning and engagement to your life. Sign up for a local or online learning course. Learn and practice a new mental challenge like doing crossword puzzles or a new skill like playing a musical instrument, drawing, painting, Qigong, or speaking a new language.
- Care for something or someone. A sense of purpose and fulfillment comes from looking beyond yourself and feeling needed. Just a few ideas: care for plants, a pet, a neighbor or loved one, read to nursery school children, take collections for charity, or teach a skill to others.
- Make changes now to stay independent longer. Some home modifications can be easily installed such as grab bars in the shower, walk-in bathtubs, raised toilets, or chair lifts to the second floor. Sometimes the renovations you will need—such as a first floor bedroom, bathroom, and laundry—would be costlier than actually moving to a more suitable home where you can age in place comfortably. Imagine yourself in a wheelchair someday: do you have accessible shelves and storage, wide doorways and hallways, and entryways without raised thresholds?
Remember, acceptance of change is the first step to a healthier attitude toward aging. There are some factors we cannot change such as family history and genetics. But there are so many other ways we are masters of our own destiny! If we choose to embrace the expected changes and make sensible adjustments to our attitude and behavior, we have less to fear and so much more to enjoy at 80 and beyond.
Feel free to contact your local BAYADA personal care office for assistance and advice how to live your best life—at home!
i. Mather, Mark, Paola Scommegna, and Lillian Kilduff. “Fact Sheet: Aging in the United States.” Population Reference Bureau, July 15, 2019. https://www.prb.org/aging-unitedstates-fact-sheet/.
ii. Murthy, Vivek. “Healthy Aging in Action Advancing the National Prevention Strategy.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, November 2016. https://www.cdc.gov/aging/pdf/healthy-aging-in-action508.pdf.
original published April 2021
update published March 2022