This month I had the privilege of meeting with a new client who celebrated her 100th birthday this year. Following our conversation, I began to puzzle over a question related to aging that often comes up when I’m working with older adults.
Most people agree that living longer is a good thing. If that’s true, then why do so many of us dread the changes that come with getting older?
It turns out that many others in my field have thought about this paradox, too. Dr. Dolly Dastoor, an expert with the McGill Centre for Studies in Aging in Montreal, offers some observations that I find especially helpful.
People often think of getting older as an endless process of losing things, Dr. Dastoor points out. “They lose friends, their children leave, they face retirement – and many people are afraid of losing their memory, their strength, their vitality,” she explains.
While fears of loss are perfectly valid, there’s a more balanced and empowering way to look at change, Dr. Dastoor suggests. Many of the changes that come our way as we age are wonderfully positive. For example, we may benefit from added wisdom, the ability to reflect and put things in perspective, and more leisure time for favorite pursuits.
Graceful, healthy aging doesn’t involve any special magic, says Dr. Daspoor, but having the right attitude is crucial. She offers a simple formula she calls the 3 A’s.
Acceptance is the first step. This happens when we make peace with the fact that change is inevitable. In fact, if we’ve been paying attention all these years, we can’t help but notice that life is nothing but change! Friends come and go. Families and communities evolve. Our bodies go through countless stages of transformation. Reminding ourselves that change is part of life’s constant flow can help us keep our balance – and even develop a healthy sense of humor about it all.
Adapting comes next. This can be especially hard when we’re facing painful or unwanted changes, such as a new medical diagnosis or a dear friend’s move to another state. Allowing ourselves to feel sad or frustrated for a while is appropriate. As we move through the transition, we can think about other times in our lives when we’ve dealt with tough situations. This renews our sense that we can successfully deal with change – and opens the door for new solutions to present themselves.
Activity is the third essential element. Being active helps us feel fully alive at every age. It enables us to navigate change by staying physically healthy and strengthening our sense of purpose. People who keep doing the things they love – or replace them with new activities as time goes by — find it easier to surf the waves of change as they come. There are countless ways to stay active, and while exercise is high on the list, people also benefit from travel, part-time work, hanging out with their grandkids, volunteering, reading or making art, just to name a few.
As a therapist working with adults in Oak Park, Illinois, I see Dr. Dastoor’s suggestions as a positive prescription for a fulfilling life. In my view, these steps don’t mean we move in a straight line. Instead, we see them as part of an open, dynamic process that keeps us healthy and engaged over time.
Training ourselves to expect change and seek new perspectives when it arrives is a lifelong pursuit. It’s never too late to start, and the benefits can indeed be great.
If you or someone you love is struggling to adapt to change, talking things over with an experienced therapist can open the door to greater perspective and peace of mind. I am happy to meet with you or your loved one at a time that is convenient. Please reach out anytime to arrange a private appointment in my Oak Park office.