By Janet Holboke, MSW, LCSW; Janet is the Older Adult Behavioral Health Specialist for Tillamook County and works for Greater Oregon Behavioral Health, Inc. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
May is Older Americans month and there is a lot to celebrate about growing older.
Susan Charles and Laura L Carstensen, in their article Social and Emotional Aging(Annu Rev Psychol; 2010, 61; 383-409), found that older adults tend to view life and relationships more positively than their younger peers.
Early in adulthood, we tend to seek out new friends and relationships, have broad social networks and experience intense emotional highs and lows. In our late 30’s, 40’s and beyond, our social networks start to narrow as we focus on the relationships that are the most meaningful and satisfying. Our emotional responses become more stable and predictable. We shift our priorities and tend to seek out important, pleasant activities while avoiding events that are distressing. We are better able to defuse an argument, avoid conflict and work to preserve goodwill. A focus on fewer, more satisfying relationships and social experiences may be why people generally view life more positively as they age.
Studies have also found that older adults tend to remember events less negatively and more positively as they age. Older adults report fewer regrets in life compared to younger people. Even when an older adult has two chronic health conditions, he or she has the same outlook on life as a younger, healthy adult.
The strong social networks formed by many older adults protect them from more than just loneliness. People who have a high level of social activity have fewer memory problems and may even recover more quickly from a serious health event such as a stroke. People who volunteer are even less likely to have problems with thinking and memory.
Undeniably, illness and disability, cognitive decline and/or the death of close friends and family can be a part of aging. For some, painful childhood experiences and long-term social and financial challenges may leave few options for meaningful social relationships in later life. Feeling useless, sad, nervous or depressed can happen for people enduring these life experiences. It is important to realize that these feelings are not a normal part of aging. Talking to a doctor, trusted friend or calling the Friendship Line at (800) 971-0016, can help.
Celebrate Older Americans month by appreciating the positive nature of older adults! Recognize their ability to connect in meaningful ways, focus on close relationships and their desire to ease conflict. Realize that older Americans contributed $75 Billion dollars worth of volunteer labor in 2015 (Corporation for National Community Service) and contribute to the quality of life in Tillamook County for all!