Aging well depends on activity, attitude, adaptability, acceptance
For years, there has been great speculation about the burden the retiring baby boomers could place on entitlement programs. Dr. Bradley Fisher, coordinator of the gerontology program at Missouri State University, doesn’t believe it will cause the economic hazards many predict with proper social planning, but noted that families and loved ones should prepare to help this generation age successfully.
In addition to income and health, Fisher’s research has identified four primary factors that affect successful aging or aging well:
- Activity – find meaningful activity that adds structure to the day
- Attitude – looking at life positively
- Adaptability – making adjustments to life
- Acceptance – learning to cope with a new lifestyle
Role transformation or filial maturity, Fisher explained, is the process wherein adult children recognize the need to step in and help as the older adults in their family age. In role transformation, there is recognition that the older person has a right to preserve their role in the family. He differentiates it from role reversal because that implies the older adult may be infantilized by well intentioned relatives.
“It is one of the most stressful and rewarding things a family member can do,” said Fisher. “It’s stressful because you are now seeing someone decline who once gave you guidance, direction and support, and now they’re needing you to give them guidance, direction and support. It is a chance to step forward and really fulfill the complexity of that adult child’s role. The help is mutual. The love is mutual.”
The stress on the family comes from many areas: loss of personal time, strain on financial resources, interpersonal struggles with family members and internal struggles with facing mortality, according to Fisher.
Although aging is often a topic people avoid, he says that assisting with financial planning for the future and communicating about long-term wishes will ultimately relieve stress.
“You honor his or her wishes to whatever extent possible, even if that person has some degree of decline in cognitive functioning; still give them input,” he said. “It’s important to let them feel important and engaged. It is that person’s life.
Fisher points out that most older adults are living and contributing in society, and most feel like a younger person living in an old person’s body.
“What our society needs to do – and we could do better – is to recognize the ongoing contributions of older adults,” said Fisher.
Fisher helps coordinate the Annual Senior Art Exhibition, a juried fine arts show for individuals 60 and over, which will be held March 14-April 12 at Juanita K. Hammons Hall for the Performing Arts on the fourth and fifth floors.
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