How to Age Gracefully
Elders can lead a life of fulfillment and age gracefully if only they focused on how they could contribute to make the world around them a better place.
The seventh stage in life according to Eric Erikson, a well known psychologist, is Middle Adulthood. This is is known as Generativity versus Stagnation stage.
Post the fifties a person starts to age both physically, emotionally and mentally. This is a stage marked by an individual who starts to show concern for the welfare of the next generation as well as the future of society. He will be concerned with the society where the next generation will continue to live. Basically this stage is not just for parents, it is for all those who have concern and want to provide proper skills for the younger generation.
When an individual is able to progress on the generativity road, the person is exhibiting care for all. The individual becomes concerned with guiding and facilitating the younger generation and so finds fulfillment in life. The focus is outwards, and in the process they also grow individually. The path to self actualization starts here.
Sometimes adults fail to get into the generativity phase. They become self absorbed. They concern themselves with self growth, their needs and their comforts. They get so self absorbed, they are unable to form good interpersonal relationships. They are not contributing to the welfare of society, and so they are not considered productive people.
The eighth stage in life, again according to Erickson, is Late Adulthood. He termed is as Ego Integrity Versus Despair. This age is from 65 years until death. At this stage people look back to see what they have achieved in life. They also ponder on missed opportunities, some failures and regrets. At this stage they also encounter health issues, their physical strength is diminishing, they may face the loss of spouse and friends, certainly face retirement which means reduced income and sometimes may find themselves uprooted and having to form new relationships.
Here it is more a summation of all that has happened in life. This summation can be positive or negative. At this stage when a person looks back, he may feel he has fulfilled his obligations, has/ had a healthy marriage, children are well settled, enjoys company of his grandchildren, had a good career, continuing in productive work, social relationships are good, etc. A life well spent, so there is no fear of death. Such a person will continue to savor life and be open for more learning. This is the stage of Ego Integrity. There is a sense of satisfaction.
But some experience a sense of despair. It is too late to start all over again, and so will be unhappy and even dread death. They will feel they have failed in several areas of life, and they could end up with regret. All their failures and missed opportunities will haunt them. They can turn bitter and be cantankerous. There can be senile depression, paranoia, or they turn hypochondriacs. Sometimes the sense of failure is too discomforting to face, so they end up doctoring their memories. Gloss over failures and believe that they did right.
When there is ego integrity, the person is balanced and willing to accept the plus and minus of old age. It is a fact that what is young today, will age tomorrow. As you age, your hearing/ vision/ joints, etc can deteriorate. You can end up with hypertension issues, diabetic complications, lipid problems, and hormonal withdrawal. Along with this your mental and emotional abilities could also change. When acceptance is there, one will not shy away from using a walking stick, hearing aid, will not want to hide grey hair, will accept decreased mobility and help from younger, able generation. But many refuse to accept help, refuse to see that they can add to the tension and stress of family members by being stubborn.
Unwilling to see oneself as old can lead to trying out different and sometimes unwanted processes and procedures. Cosmetic surgery to look young, for instance going in for wrinkles removal, is resorted to.
But most important is to find the purpose to continue to live and live fruitfully. Emotional/ mental/ social areas need to be kept healthy. When there is purpose or goal in life, there is the need and want to achieve. This need or want may take a different meaning, but cultivating it will keep life interesting for older generation.
There was an unfortunate news article that reported how an elderly couple committed suicide because they felt lonely. Their son could not spend much time with them, so they decided to end their lives. It is a waste of two lives, lives that could have nurtured new generation, contributed to society with their skills and experience. It seems to be a case of self absorption.
It again boils down to choice. To lead a productive life, one needs a certain bend of mind. We have so many examples of elderly who are aging gracefully and actively contributing to society. For them age is just a number. They have accepted the limitations of age, but are powering on. Life can be beautiful at this stage too. One needs an inner vision, since real vision may diminish!