A dear friend recently had a stroke. Over the past month, I’ve spent some time at her bedside. Hospitals are horrific places, and this was no exception. Bright lights, loud noises and constant interruptions are not conducive to healing. In fact, research shows that hospitals can be a dangerous place for older patients. There is an increased risk of infections, medication interactions, delirium, surgical complications, and functional decline. Older patients may also be at risk for cognitive decline after hospitalization. Hospitals today are often short-staffed and older patients become isolated and easily ignored. Care is limited without a vigilant patient advocate present.
Naturally all her friends were worried and concerned. But what surprised me most was the response of some folks. “Well at ‘our age’ the body just naturally starts to wear out,” one said. Or “This could be expected, at her age,” another explained. Someone even asked me if I felt closer to death just being around her, implying that “my age” was just a ticking time bomb after all. I guess that’s to be expected when you see life through the eyes of age or perhaps, I should say ageist stereotypes.Seeing through the lens of age means that every physical, mental, or emotional issue is attributed to age first without looking for the actual cause. Age becomes an excuse for everything that occurs after the age of 60 or 65. Doctors do this too, which leaves older patients with limited care. Why treat a condition when it’s seen as inevitable? Why fill a hospital bed with someone who’s just waiting for death?
So, does age matter? What matters is not that you are older but rather how you see yourself as older. Becca Levy’s research, published in 2022, found that people with positive age beliefs lived seven and a half years longer than those who viewed their life negatively. (That’s the same improvement that a healthy diet and exercise can give you.) Research has also found that positive aging is associated with lower blood pressure, a reduced risk of dementia, and improved health. Further, older people with positive age stereotypes were 44% more likely to fully recover from severe disability than those with negative age stereotypes. Experiencing a longer life with better health, cognition, and memory matters.
In the article “How to Change Your Mind-Set About Aging,” author Holly Burns tells of a problem that psychologist Regina Koepp had with her hip. “I’ll say I’m old because I feel stiff and creaky,” she said. “But then I think, Well, my right hip isn’t stiff and creaky, and it’s the same age.” Once we stop seeing the world through the lens of ageism, we are more likely to experience positive, successful aging. We are also more likely to fight for the care we need so we can live a long and healthy life.
You might be wondering about our age. My friend is 75, and I am 71 years old. We both continue to work and are active and vital. Is age the reason for what ails us, or is it only a factor? I believe it’s only a part of the puzzle. My friend has a positive view of aging. She spends time reflecting every day on her potential, what she wants from life, and what she has to offer. There is nary a thought of any lack or limitation due to age. She chooses to ignore those ageist stereotypes that permeate our culture.
And perhaps that is why this story has a good ending. After two massive strokes, my friend is well on the way towards picking up from where she left off. Her doctor says she’s a miracle. I think she is both very lucky and very smart. Her positive view of aging and belief in her body’s ability to heal has made all the difference.
Remember, when you look through the lens of age, be sure to pick up the rosy pair.
To learn more about positive aging, pick up Becca Levy’s book Breaking the Age Code.