Recently I visited Italy, marveling at the buildings that had been in that spot for literal centuries, or ruins that were a couple layers of archeological lasagna below a centuries-old structure. I thought my house in St Louis was old, clocking in at 85 years when I sold it! However, what I was reminded of in Italy is that in terms of “old”, everything is relative.
I have several care receivers who are in their 80s and early 90s who have widely different mobility, cognitive and satisfaction levels. Chronic health issues, deteriorating memory, mobility challenges all contribute to how “old” a person truly seems. The way a person processes loss of independence and grief, as well as their baseline ability to deal with change can also “age” a person. Physical or emotional upheaval can certainly impact a person’s perceived age, leaving them unrecognizable. Dwelling on the past or fearing the future tends to age us as well.
On the other hand, there are plenty of things that keep us young. Adopting new technology, learning a new hobby or skill, relationships that challenge us to grow and learn. I have a friend who has a goal to cultivate a significant relationship with at least one person in each decade of life (teens, twenty-somethings, thirties, etc). This allows her to be in touch with what is going on throughout different stages of life, not just her own. I think this diversity can also keep us young.
As I survey my loved ones, I am thankful that I have a church friend as young as 5 (who greets my stuffed hamster before greeting me, but nevertheless, a friend), niece and nephew who are teenagers, a social media diva posting this for me in her 20s, her husband who just turned 30, I am in my mid-40s, my travel buddy who is 50-something, walking companions in their 60s, pet sitting and Family Link clients in their 70s, beloved neighbors in their 80s and several care receivers in their 90s. It amazes me how similar some of these people are: their interests, their concerns, their joy. And how different they can be: their experiences, the losses they have suffered, the way they communicate. All of them enrich my life. They keep me focused on the present, too, because we are sharing our lives as it is happening.
Cross-generational and cross-cultural relationships can be a fountain of youth that provides margin for whatever may be crouching at your door that wants to “age” you. Or maybe you are quite young at heart yourself and can take years off someone else by sharing some laughter or sharing their load. Are you a caregiver and feel isolated because of your responsibility? Perhaps you are getting older and feel like every year brings another litany of friends and family who have died? Do you just need some perspective in your own life because you are in a hard season?
Scroll through your phone or your social media. How diverse are the people in your life? Try to reach out and find someone in a stage of life that isn’t like yours. Challenge yourself to cultivate a conversation or deepen a relationship with someone who thinks or believes differently than you. Perhaps it is while you get the oil changed in your car or maybe it can be online with someone who is home-bound. Your unique perspectives and experiences will stimulate your minds and your hearts as you share with one another. Stave off old age by living fully today.
Anita is the founder of Family Link and wants to share with you some tools and thoughts to help you with the complex responsibility of managing the care of aging loved ones while still managing the other aspects of your life.