Changing Our Minds About Aging

***  Time for this post? Reading… 5 minutes. Listening… 28 minutes. 

In North America, we have a bad impression of aging. Most of us would like to avoid it. Since that isn’t possible, we tend to ignore the subject as much as we can.

And really, who would want to get old, considering that the cultural messages are largely disparaging and dismissive. We are generally seen as failing adults, rather than people with something to contribute.

Where can we find a better vision of aging?

I was inspired by an interview I heard a few days ago on CBC’s “Tapestry.” Geriatric psychiatrist Dr. Marc Agronin has written a book which is invites us to stop thinking of aging as an “implacable enemy and start seeing it as a developmental force for enhancing well-being, meaning, and longevity.” A summary of The End of Old Age goes on to say:

the focus is squarely on: “So what does this mean for me and my family?” In the final part of the book, Dr. Agronin provides simple but revealing charts that you can fill out to identify, develop, and optimize your unique age-given strengths.

It’s nothing short of an action plan to help you age better by improving how you value the aging process, guide yourself through stress, and find ways to creatively address change for the best possible experience and outcome.

Dr. Agronin is an expert in Alzheimer’s disease and other geriatric mental health issues, and runs both a memory center and one of Florida’s largest Alzheimer’s clinical research programs. He is the author of nine books and hundreds of articles, has been published in the New York Times, and writes regular blogs on aging and retirement issues for the Wall Street Journal.

In the interview, he said that if we celebrated when people enter older stages of life, there would be a really profound shift in the way society thinks about aging. Instead of dreading it, we would look forward to it.

Dr. Agronin has plenty of experience with older people since his average patient is 90 years of age. He does not deny the challenges they face. But I was struck by how he’s able to both acknowledge the downsides of aging and yet still see that aging has the potential to be about growth, change, and even strength.

Age-given strengths…

Strength is not something we typically associate with aging. I think that’s because we have a narrow view that defines strength as only physical robustness. Yet, Dr. Agronin says he has seen people who are both frail and vital at the same time.  Their strength, he says, is in their wisdom, purpose, and creativity—qualities that grow and deepen with age.


For a longer presentation that develops Dr. Agronin’s ideas about the five aspects of wisdom, among other things, go here.

There’s a lot that begs for further exploration. Next week we’ll consider the intriguing notion that age might be just a state of mind.

What’s it all been about?

***  Time for this post? Reading…4 minutes.  Viewing…20 minutes. Reflecting…as you wish.

It seems natural to me that our interests change as we move through the last years of life. I think of it like the arc of a story—there’s a welling up of action in the middle and then things sort themselves out and resolve for the finale.

Reflection. Assessment. Wondering what it’s all been about. These are on my mind… and I’ve been on the lookout for perspectives I can relate to. You may recall that I recently asked nonagenarian Nora Bitner for her view on the tasks of aging.

Here’s another perspective…

Lewis Richmond is a musician, retired teacher, and author of Aging as a Spiritual Practice: A Contemplative Guide to Growing Older and Wisera book about how to find contentment and wisdom throughout the aging process.

In his video about aging, he discusses worthy goals such as generosity and givng back, gratitude, living an ethical life, recognizing that everything is connected, and kindness. He says, “Kindness is one of the gifts older people can bring to a society, because they’ve seen what happens when kindness disappears from the world. It’s not pretty.” His video spoke to me and I thought you might enjoy it too.

The explanation of meditation as it relates to aging was a revelation to me. When he said there are two functions of meditation, I had a light-bulb moment. Suddenly I understood why I don’t relate when meditation is promoted for its calming and relaxing benefits. I don’t need or want that. I prefer to sit quietly with my thoughts, tune in to my body, and gain perspective and insight.

As Lewis Richmond explains, what I’m engaged in is the other function of meditation—the ability to see what’s real. Not as I imagine it, not as society tells me it should be, but what it really is for me. What’s bothering me about my aging body? What am I afraid of? What unresolved emotions are lurking in the background? Quiet time gives me the space to explore these questions.

Reflection and contemplation help us make sense of our lives as we approach the finale. In our elderhood, we need space to reflect more than we need time to calm down.

Every breath, new chances.

“Attending to your inner thoughts” is one of the worthy goals Lewis Richmond identifies. This, for me, is one of my major tasks as I age. I want to allow unresolved questions and issues to surface, face them with kindly attention and care, and transform them so they’re no longer burdens and preoccupations.

I want to be free of encumbrances as I go into my last days. In my view, that will make it easier to make a graceful exit. Every day that I’m still here, I have new chances to lighten my load and get ready.

There’s so much else to unpack from Lewis Richmond’s presentation. What spoke to you?

Stop. Take a breath.

*** Time for this post? Two minutes and that’s it!

My family and friends know that I can be pretty focused when I hone in on a project. That has certainly been true as I’ve been learning about dying. My motivation is to be able to help myself through the process when the time comes…and to share what I learn along the way.

The downside of such focus is that single-pointedness can arise. So I’ve been consciously tuning in to counterbalancing viewpoints. I heard this quote in a recent radio interview… Continue reading

Who should be in charge?

***  Time for this post?  Reading…a couple minutes.  Viewing…15 minutes. Changing your attitude…no time at all.

I started an exploration of fear of aging with Scilla Elworthy’s perspective. Today’s post is about a common fear that she didn’t mention—losing authority over our lives. It happens. More, and sooner, than it needs to in many cases.

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The Tasks of Aging

***  Time for this post? Reading…5 minutes. Considering…the rest of your life.

I’ve been wondering…if aging is a stage of human development, then what are our tasks as we move through this stage.

So I asked someone I knew would have ideas about this. Nora Bitner is a Therapist. Mother. Grandmother. Great-grandmother. Writer. Thinker. And did I mention that Nora is 90 years old? At the end of a message on another topic, she said… Continue reading

Why are we afraid of aging?

*** Time for this post? Reading…a couple minutes. Viewing…17 minutes. Coming to terms…who knows?

Why are we afraid of aging? I think the simple answer is that we’ve seen what happens to people around us and it usually isn’t pretty.  Getting old seems to involve a lot of pain and suffering. Who’d want to sign up for that?!

So we aim to avoid what they’re experiencing. And we can…for a while. But, with the exception of those who die a quick accidental death at a young age, we will all become frail, maybe ill, and then we’ll die.

What can we do?

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Being with someone with Alzheimer’s

*** Time for this post?  Reading…5 minutes. Viewing…11 minutes. Practising…until it becomes automatic.

A couple weeks ago, I wrote about being with a person who is dying. Mostly it was about what to say and not say. The same questions arise when visiting, or living with, a person who has dementia. What to say? What not to say?

I’ve known two people who developed dementia. In the old days, we had such good conversations! When that was no longer possible, I stopped visiting. I wish I’d thought of researching how to be with someone in that state, instead of abandoning them.

Engaging with dementia…

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Setting the tone when you’re seriously ill or dying…

-*** Time for this post? Reading…8 minutes. Viewing…9 minutes. Thinking about what you would do…as you wish.

After writing last week’s blog about being with the dying, it occurred to me that…

As such, we have responsibilities…

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Being with a Person who is Dying

*** Time for this post?  Reading…5 minutes. Viewing…an hour, but not necessarily all at once.

My life has not yet required me to be on hand when someone is dying. And I’m pretty sure that can’t continue. So I’ve been looking for good information about how to be with someone who’s near the end of life.

Visiting someone who’s dying…

I found an excellent article about deathbed visiting which offers very practical tips based onthe author’s challenging experience of managing the death of a family member at home. Continue reading

Quantity of life … or quality?

*** Time for this post?  Reading…2 minutes. Viewing…19 minutes. Taking it in…as you wish.

BJ Miller, a hospice doctor, says, “At the end of our lives, what do we most wish for? For many, it’s simply comfort, respect, and love.”

Yet the statistics show that most of us in our over-medicalized Western culture do not die that way. And it’s easy to see why.

Doctors are trained to keep us alive, There are a lot of treatments they can offer before giving in and saying the dreaded sentence, “There’s nothing more we can do.”

Now, let’s be clear. The blame doesn’t lie solely on the shoulders of doctors. We, the people who are offered these treatments, may not yet have come to terms with the fact that we will surely die sooner or later. In this mindset, we aim for quantity of life and lose sight of the quality of life we may really be aching for.

When we are uneasy about our inevitable death, we grasp at any possibility that’s offered to us. Yet, as Stephen Jenkinson says, the “more-time” bargain we make to avoid the end of life has consequences we never imagined.

Quality of life as we near the end…

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