Successful aging role models can inspire

Ageist thinking has been a staple of American culture for hundreds of years.

How many times have we heard these sentiments being touted as facts? Being old is a bad thing; older adults aren’t fit for work; older adults need protecting; older people are slow and stuck in the past; and older people have less value than younger people.

With increases in life expectancy, it is an important time to move beyond ageist thinking. According to 2021 data, more than 55.8 million adults ages 65 and older live in the U.S., accounting for about 16.8% of the nation's population.

By 2040, that proportion is projected to grow to 22%.

To move us in the right direction, identifying role models of successful aging may encourage us to have more positive views on aging and inspire us as we grow older.

With that in mind, I recently asked a group of women, who is your successful aging role model? And why?

Before I share some of their answers, it’s key to point out that positive aging role models can come in many variations.

They may be someone looked up to because of their positive views on aging. They may be someone worthy of imitation — like a senior who is physically and mentally active.

A successful aging role model may represent an inspirational ideal like giving back and living with meaning and purpose.

And a role model may be someone who inspires others to imitate his or her behavior - such as intelligent, talented older adults who are still engaged and don’t define themselves by their age.

Role models represent exemplary people to identify with and learn from, providing us with the motivation and pathways to success.

A study published in the Journal of Gerontology asked adults about their role models for successful aging. Most participants listed their parents or grandparents as role models, and were primarily gender matched, meaning that men chose male role models and females chose female role models.

The positive influence that grandparents can have on their grandchildren's development can be significant. By offering love and guidance, imparting wisdom, passing on traditions, and making memories, grandparents can leave behind a legacy that their grandchildren will value for the rest of their lives.

My grandmother, (my father’s mother) lived to be 93, still cooking meals and managing the household almost until the end. She made up for my grandfather’s flaws, worked to earn the family income and developed a social network of women she leaned on during tough times.

Some of the women in the room were eager to share their successful aging role models. One woman mentioned her neighbor, age 100, who walked around the neighborhood every morning at 8 am, with her walker. This same woman engaged in classes at the senior center and planned to leave that afternoon to go help her younger sister, who is 90.

Another noted her aging icon was Tina Turner. This woman had been a lifelong fan of Turner’s, in awe of her musical talent, her fitness and her ability to overcome physical and emotional abuse. She also noted Turner’s philanthropic efforts. I took the time to read about Turner’s life and was overwhelmed by her intelligence, energy, talent, resilience, and sensuality.

Another woman spoke of her age 80+ cycling buddy, who made the bold move of selling his home and relocating to a continuous retirement community near his children so they could more easily help him if his physical or mental health failed. He is thriving in his new location, in large part due to his positive and flexible nature.   

So, who would you consider to be your successful aging role model?

If we are lucky, we will grow old one day. By identifying successful aging role models along the way, and understanding why they inspire us, we will be one step further on our journey to our own positive aging experience.


Categories: Elder lifestyleNumber of views: 274

Tags: role models

Andrea GallagherAndrea Gallagher

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