Self Improvement — 25 August 2014
Dealing with the dread of aging

A universal concern shared by most adults is the fear of aging. Today’s culture of youth, beauty, charm and brilliance is mostly relegated to the young. The more brilliant, creative, attractive and promising our young adults are, the harder it is for us to feel vital, well-regarded, and valued. How can we sanely and gracefully manage the process of aging?

In “Growing Up in America” the Social Historian David Hackett Fischer describes the evolution of attitudes to aging from 1600 to 1970. He details how up to the 19th Century, respect for the old was considered to be an innate instinct of younger individuals. During the 19th and 20th Centuries the “cult of the youth” emerged and “Gerontophobia”- the fear of aging was born.

Today’s society views aging as an undesirable process. It has propelled many individuals to conceal their age, surgically alter their appearance, dress and act as youthfully as they can in an attempt to maintain others’ respect, be positively regarded and avoid being excluded.

Regrettably, many older individuals’ attitudes toward themselves match society’s irreverence for them. This has profound psychological and emotional repercussions and causes isolation and marginalization of an increasing segment of the population, many of whom are still bright and vital individuals who are capable of great contributions to society.

According to U.S. Census predictions, by 2030 one in five U.S. residents will be 65 years of age or older and Octogenarians will surpass the number of children. It is not clear how many seniors will to be in need of day-to-day care and how many will remain vital, bright and relatively self-sufficient. It is hard to predict the medical, physical and emotional state of those who will live to be 100 years or older. Most seniors dread ill health and becoming dependent on others and a burden to their families and society.

Older individuals tend to use their age to explain away their errors, forgetfulness or mistakes. Attributing their failings to “senior moments” may gain the temporary compassion of others but may induce greater internal fear than admitting to the error without interpretation.

Efforts to hide one’s age through surgical procedures, adopting youthful expressions or socializing primarily with younger adults, deceive only the senior. Being older is not a sin – it is a privilege and if handled well, may help the elder become an inspiration to younger individuals.

Psychologically, older people secretly harbor fears about becoming physically, mentally or cognitively impaired and becoming dependent upon others. These dreaded states of loss of autonomy or the capacity of being self-sufficient are truly terrifying to many adults. Living in fear hinders one’s ability to invest enough positive energy toward staying vital.

Manage your fear of aging:

  • Consider aging a blessing. Reject any demeaning attributions to aging.
  • Abstain from projecting yourself into a future infirmed state.
  • Stay intellectually, emotionally and physically active.
  • Engage in whatever gives meaning to your life: Volunteer work, helping others, being creative, exploring nature, traveling, etc.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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