What are your perceptions about getting older? Are you one of the many who associate aging with negative stereotypes, including physical frailty and mental confusion? Is “getting older” linked in your mind with inevitable decline? Or do you see aging as a positive experience, in which you’ll enjoy prolonged good health and the chance to savor new experiences? In short, is aging “bad news” or “good news?”
A recent study shows that, if you buy into all the negative stereotypes about aging, you could very likely be preparing yourself for a shorter, less productive life. Those who dread growing older may be setting themselves up for the very type of bleak future they’re so afraid of!
Most of us understand the idea that our thoughts and perceptions have a powerful effect on how we live and how we feel. This idea that our mind and body are inextricably connected is hardly new – in fact, several thousand years ago, the Old Testament’s King Solomon had it right when in Proverbs 23 he wrote, “As a man thinks within himself, so is he.” In other words, the power of self-talk is often greater than we care to admit. Now researchers from Yale University and the National Institute on Aging have released a study, reported last month on the website Next Avenue, that corroborates the idea that, when it comes to aging, we tend to get what we expect to get, especially if our expectations are mostly negative.
For example, when the Yale researchers examined nearly four decades of data on aging, they made the startling discovery that “people who held negative stereotypes about aging had a 30 percent greater decline in memory as they aged, compared to persons who did not.” In the assessment of the NextAvenue author, “That’s huge. It shows how the power of our prevailing thoughts about age impact our personal experience of aging.” In other words, as a man thinks within himself, so is he.
This phenomenon goes way beyond its effects on memory. Older men and women who see aging primarily as a time of mental and physical decline “have higher levels of arthritis, heart disease and hearing loss than those who don’t.” The data was so clear that the NextAvenue article states, “Generally speaking, older adults who hold negative beliefs about aging have worse health outcomes across the board.” This idea that our preconceptions affect our health even goes so far as to determine – at least partially – how long we will live. The Yale survey suggests that “older adults who believe that to be old means to be ill…are twice as likely to die sooner” compared with their peers who have a positive outlook on aging. All this suggests that we tend to experience what we expect as we age, the bad along with the good. “What you believe,” says NextAvenue, “ends up being what you live.”
There are other studies referenced in the NextAvenue piece that reinforce this idea. One survey compared memory performance of Chinese seniors versus their American counterparts. The Chinese seniors, coming from a culture whose view of aging is much more positive than that in the United States, out-performed the American seniors. This would suggest that American pessimism about aging tends to become self-fulfilling prophecy.
Here at AgingOptions we agree with this assessment. Our retirement years ought to be – for most of us, anyway – a time of new discoveries and new experiences. Maybe it’s time to examine your own self-talk and stop casting aging in such a negative light. NextAvenue suggests, “Notice the older people around you who are living happily, who think of age merely as passage through time — those who expect to continue to enjoy good health, enough energy to do what pleases them, who figure life is meant to be lived fully, until the day their expiration date comes due. Use them as your benchmark of what life can be like for you as you travel through your 60s, 70s and beyond.” This is how our senior years were meant to be lived.
Of course, living a healthy and fruitful retirement demands a solid plan. All the self-talk in the world won’t help if we fail to prepare, which is why we’re so excited here at AgingOptions to offer a type of retirement plan, called a LifePlan that is unique in its scope and completeness. Your LifePlan helps you answer the key questions a truly comprehensive plan must address. Are your finances secure? Have you prepared your estate with all necessary legal requirements? Have you considered your housing options? Have you made a good decision regarding your medical insurance needs, both immediate and long-term? Is your family aware of and supportive of your plans and wishes? Imagine the peace of mind you’ll experience when your answer to all these questions is a confident “yes”!
There’s a quick, easy way to find out more about LifePlanning, and that’s by attending a free LifePlanning Seminar – an information-packed few hours that will open your eyes to the power of a LifePlan. For dates, times, locations and online registration, click on the Upcoming Events tab on this website – or call us during the week, and we can assist you by phone. Are you ready to change your perception of aging and retirement? A LifePlanning Seminar is the perfect next step! We’ll look forward to meeting you soon.
(originally reported at www.nextavenue.org)