The Gift of Years

Growing old is inevitable – bringing with it wisdom through years of experience. But it is also means pain in the joints, poor digestion and aching feet.

We have to realise that physical, psychological and mental aspects are involved in ageing. Disorders of speech, sight and hearing are more frequent among older adults. Many parts of the body, such as the heart and lungs, do not function as efficiently as before. Our memory becomes poorer, our mobility restricted and we become more prone to depression and irritability.

Acknowledging this is the first step in dealing with growing old. How then do we grow old with dignity?

  • Stay physically active
    • Try daily light exercises such as walking. Even housework and gardening are good forms of exercise.
  • Keep mentally active
    • Keep your mind active by indulging in your hobby or perhaps taking on a new one.
  • Proper nutrition
    • A well-balanced diet and vitamin supplements are important, especially as you grow older.
  • Regular medical checks
    • Regular check-ups will allow early detection of problems and assist in treatment and recovery.
  • Be honest about feelings
    • Feelings of isolation and loneliness are very real in old age. Do not be afraid to share your feelings with family members and friends.
  • Adjust to your different role
    • You may not be able to remain as head of the household, so enjoy sitting back. Let someone else take over the running of the home.
  • Plan early for old age
    • Look forward to retirement, but plan well in advance. In realising the fact that we will all retire at some point in time, plan now psychologically, socially and financially. Let the golden years bring value and rewards.

Helping to Allay Old People’s Fears

If, on the other hand, you haven’t as yet enjoyed the gift of years, how can you help to ensure that older people do?

Society needs to change its attitude towards old age. Far from being a burden, the elderly should be recognised as possessing experience, skill, knowledge, talent and wisdom.

Here are a few tips you can put into practice.

  • Show patience
    • Be patient when elders are not as quick or agile as you are.
  • Listen
    • Give a listening ear to what elders say. By hearing them out, you may learn something, and it helps to make them feel better.
  • Preserve family ties
    • Reinforce reverence and respect for the elderly, and try to keep family ties strong.
  • Offer reassurance
    • No one likes to feel that life is slowly coming to an end. You can help to reassure elders about their fears during this sensitive phase of their lives.
  • Show respect
    • Many old people feel ignored and under-valued – outsiders in a society they helped to build. Respect their values, even if they seem outdated to you.
  • Don’t be over-protective
    • The best therapy and exercise for many old people, perhaps surprisingly, is housework. Provided they are able, let elders look after themselves. This will maintain their sense of self-worth.
  • Keep elders up to date
    • You can help elders to adapt to the present way of life by letting them know what’s going on around them. This will give them a sense of being a part of the life of the community, and a feeling of control over their own lives.
  • Offer employment
    • If you are in a position to offer employment, you can help elders retain a sense of purpose by offering part-time, flexitime or alternate day employment for those who want it. Don’t automatically push workers out when they turn 65.
  • Give companionship
    • Many older people are left alone due to their children growing up and leaving home, or the death of their spouse. You can help to alleviate their feelings of rejection, loneliness and boredom by offering your time and friendship.
  • Help to change the negative stereotype
    • Too often the elderly are presented as outdated members of society with little to contribute. You can help change these stereotypes that portray the aged as muddled, irritable and incompetent. Remember, many outstanding achievers in the arts, science and politics are well over 60.

Let’s be very clear that senility and mental illness are not natural consequences of old age. Their presence could be due to adverse social factors. And these can be prevented or avoided by changes in social attitudes.

The young can help the older members of society to live their lives with dignity and self-esteem. Indeed, we all have a vested interest in the future of the aged – the young of today are the older people tomorrow.

If we all have the right attitude, the gift of years can be a beautiful experience. It cannot be earned, nor hoarded. It should be opened and enjoyed, thankfully, one day at a time.

“Youth and age are not dates in time, but states of mind. Our duty is not to add years to our lives, but to add life to our years.” – Myron Taylor