Irene and Alice are not the only lively elders I've heard about lately. I reunited with a sorority sister from college last week who told me that her 80 year old father and his 77 year old sister were heading off snow skiing for the weekend. I have another friend whose mom travels regularly to Europe, and she is in her upper 80's. My own 84 year old mother-in law just auditioned for a part in a stage play.
In contrast to these healthy elders, I recently attended the funeral of my 66 year old aunt who spent the last four years in a nursing home in a slow decline, the last few months on hospice, and died peacefully in her sleep. Sadly she had complex medical issues that unfortunately robbed her of the opportunity to enjoy her retirement years.
Clearly, the trend is for more seniors in advanced age to be active and engaged, and I'm so glad. Realistically, though, aging can be tough, and quality of life at any age depends a lot on wellness. The National Report Card on Healthy Aging published by the CDC demonstrates improvement in several areas that help to maintain wellness including physical activity, obesity, and smoking cessation. The National Institutes of Health reports that seniors are living longer, more active lives, and NIH Senior Health provides guidelines and tips to maintain the body and mind in the best shape for as long as possible.
Beyond living a healthy, active lifestyle, author Dinah Berland, in a blog article for the Huffington Post, talks about the importance of "being present in the moment", because that's where life is actually happening. I don't think there is a time in life when it's more important to practice presence than our later years. Dinah writes, "To 'be here now' and to hold this mind-set as a fundamental axiom of life may be the very key to changing one's attitude toward aging, transforming it from a condition of inevitable decline to a period of profound gratitude and empowerment."
I think what the elders in my life have taught me is that any age can be a time of growth and new adventure if we are willing to open ourselves up to the possibilities. Living a healthy lifestyle, staying engaged in the here and now of life, embracing and learning new things, like how to use the latest iPhone, are all keys to successful aging.
Just take a lesson from Irene and Alice...