Why Do We Fear Aging?
“They say we leave this world just the way we came into it —— naked and alone. So, if we do leave with nothing, what then, is a measure of a life? Is it defined by the people we choose to love? Or is life simply measured by our accomplishments? And what if we fail? or are never truly loved? What then? Can we ever measure up?...."
- Lucas Scott -
Simply say the word "old" and what do we think of? A worn out shoe that has been thrown in the dumpster, a beloved T-shirt that is now full of holes from frequent laundering, or the house down the street with shutters hanging on hinges, pealing paint, and broken windows,
When we think of getting old, we think of our faculties not working properly, being in a nursing home, bent and frail, and loneliness. We think of cancer, Alzheimer's disease, heart attacks, surgery, and burying our loved ones. The current marketing strategies of our generation target our fears, selling everything from weight loss supplements to anti-aging creams.
The table below contains the responses to the question, "What do you fear the most about aging" posted on Hub Pages:
Lack of Independence
Lack of Resources
Loneliness and Neglect
What do you fear the most about aging?
We have all asked ourselves questions about what could happen as we age. Below are some startling statistics:
- Will I have a heart attack?
"For the 60 to 79-year-old age group, 70.2% of men and 70.9% of women have CVD" or Cardiovascular Disease (American Heart Association).
- Will I get cancer?
"One in two men will get cancer. One in three women will get cancer" (Cancer Treatment Centers of America).
- Will I get in an accident and not be able to provide for my family?
"Just over 1 in 4 of today's 20 year-olds will become disabled before they retire" (Council for Disability Awareness).
- Will I have to care for my aging parents?
"65.7 million caregivers make up 29% of the U.S. adult population providing care to someone who is ill, disabled or aged" (Family Caregiver Alliance).
- Will I develop Alzheimer's or dementia?
"The likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s doubles about every five years after age 65. After age 85, the risk reaches nearly 50 percent" (Alzheimer's Association). "Age is the most significant known risk factor for dementia" (Alzheimer's Society)
- Will I end up in a nursing home?
"More than 70 percent of Americans over the age of 65 will need long-term care services at some point in their lives, according to a study by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services" (Wall Street Journal).
We don't know what will happen
Are these things really what we are most worried about, though? We know that we will all die at some point or another. We know that aging brings with it a gradual loss of our abilities. We are also well aware of the many things that we can do to slow the aging process with changes in our life styles. The underlying fear is that we do not know what will happen to us individually.
Before age fifty, we were on an uphill climb. Our goals and objectives had to do with starting and rearing our families and getting established in our careers. Each time we reached an important milestone, we added another one to take its place. We concentrated our efforts on purchasing a home, having sufficient vehicles for everyone to get where they needed to go, and helping our children grow in their education, talents, and abilities.
And then something happens. The "over the hill" signs at our 50th birthday party aren't just in front of us, they are in the back of our minds. We round the corner just far enough to see that there is an end to the road! We realize that at any point, we could be breathing our last. We hear about people dying of heart attacks that are younger than us. We see firsthand what happens when accidents take their toll. We personally know people who are walking away from the funerals of their spouses or children.
The fact of the matter is that the greatest risk factor we have is our advancing age. The older we get, the greater are our chances of ill health, loss of independence, and/or nursing home placement. It is not a matter of "if" these things happen, but "when." We would do well to plan for our future with estate documents that provide peace of mind for ourselves and our loved ones.
Once these documents are in place, our worries about what happens when we are no longer able to care for ourselves are minimized. Mortality is no longer about getting ahead, but about being the person that we were meant to be. We develop a desire to leave a legacy for our children and grandchildren, and to help them learn the wisdom we have gained through the hard knocks of life. We decide that life is not just about accumulating things, but about being with those that we love. Tim Timmons sums it up nicely with his song "Starts With Me" in the video below.
Make the Choice*
Choose health before sickness settles the score, choose life before death comes to knock at the door. Choose to give before a request is made, choose to bring sunshine into the shade.
Choose to call before its too late, choose to unlock your garden gate. Choose to forgive before repentance is shown, choose to enlist before time has flown.
Choose to be wise before gray hairs appear, choose to be kind to everyone near. Choose to follow, though you are in the lead, choose to help others when they are in need.
Choose to be clean in body and mind, choose to bury any poison you find. Make the choice. Prepare a plan. Leave nothing to chance, take a strong stand.
Let others know what you believe before they assume that you'll take a reprieve. Go forward with faith there's a better world, and make it so with your flag unfurled.
Remember that there is room at the top, and not just for pails and a broom or a mop. Those who lead will be followed for sure, as others are looking for a pathway secure.
Build a bridge to the other side and others will follow you right in stride. Choose to be honest in all that you do, choose to see clearly a new point of view.
Choose to be prepared before the storm, choose to step now outside of the norm. Choose to teach others what they need to know before embarrassment steals the show.
Choose to speak quietly before others shout, choose to have time before it has run out. Choose to learn before circumstances require. Choose to sing peace before hearing the choir.
Finding a Higher Purpose
In order to keep the fears of old age from getting the best of us, we have to find a higher purpose for living. Just setting a goal to never come under a surgeon's knife isn't going to bring us peace and happiness in our advancing age. We have to find something to live for.
According to psychologist, Erik Erikson's theory of psychosocial development, we reach a stage in our lives that requires a change in our focus. Once we no longer have young children dependent upon us for their keep, we may find ourselves slipping into a period of self-pity, feeling unloved and lacking in purpose. In order to counteract this stagnation, we adopt a sort of "mission" or "cause" that we champion. This gives us people to connect with, things to do, and places to go.
It carries us into our elderly years with strong feelings of self-worth, belonging, and companionship. Losing loved ones in the process is no longer a tragedy, but a necessary part of our life's process. We have something to sustain us, something beyond ourselves, and perhaps even beyond this world, that enables continued positive choices.
There will be plenty of opportunities to face our fear of ill health as we sit in doctor's offices and hospital waiting rooms. Each time we are faced with a crisis of health for ourselves and our loved ones, we will be wondering if we were meant to stay or go. And yet, "It is in our most difficult moments, when we are brought to our knees, that we realize there must be a power beyond our own that is able to save us from the unfortunate circumstances in which we find ourselves." This is how our fears become acquainted with our faith.
*Poem "Make the Choice" by Denise W. Anderson.
© 2014 Denise W Anderson