As featured in North Hawaii News December 14, 2015
Many people are uncomfortable with the concept of being old, both for themselves and their loved ones. Aging is a process that all living beings experience. It’s part of the deal. We start from microscopic organisms and evolve into full grown adults in a relatively small window of time. We are given 100 years of life, more or less, which is broken up into significant patterns of growth. Let’s embrace the opportunities and challenges each phase of life brings with thoughtfulness and perspective.
When I studied gerontology, our professors motivated us to consider the impact of the words society uses to refer to older adults. Many terms mean basically the same thing, yet create various reactions in different individuals when spoken. One person’s insult may be another person’s badge of honor, depending on how they’re hearing it.
The term “old” can carry negative connotations with it, as it is often used for things that are outdated or overripe. I personally prefer the term “older adult” because it feels more respectful of one’s age. I care for a beloved gentleman who will turn 102 next month and I wouldn’t think to refer to him as old because he has a vibrant spirit. Luckily, here in Hawaii, we have the word “kupuna” which consistently resonates a feeling of respect.
The majority of my days are spent with those in their 80s and older who represent a lifetime of experience. When we interact I can see the parent, child, friend and spouse they have been throughout their life journey. They are often quite confident in their belief systems and remind my staff and me of where we come from. So often they’ll say, “it seems just like yesterday that…,” which is a test to how quickly and smoothly we transition into our later years.
The age that someone feels “old” is determined by the person’s lifestyle. Getting your AARP subscription in the mail and senior citizen discount does not make you old. It’s up to the each individual to determine what category you think you’re in. A 96-year-old friend of mine said it hasn’t occurred to her that she could be old. If you think you are old, you might start acting old. Now is a good time to become aware of your thoughts about aging. Each of us is ultimately responsible for our attitude.
As you spend time with loved ones during the upcoming holidays, my wish for you is that you see yourself in those older than you and consider how you want to be thought of when you are in their comfortable shoes.