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Jerry Davich: Seeing aging through ‘Rose’ colored attitudes

Tony Patty Rose outside their Valparaiso home Thursdsay Jan. 24 2013. | Andy Lavalley~Sun-Times Media

Tony and Patty Rose outside their Valparaiso home Thursdsay Jan. 24, 2013. | Andy Lavalley~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: March 1, 2013 6:22AM



Age stereotyping.

Are you familiar with this phrase?

If not, I’m sure you’re familiar with the outdated and damaging beliefs behind it, such as, “Old people are slow, sick and forgetful.”

Ring a bell now? This is age stereotyping at its worst. And an eye-opening study now suggests that younger generations have more influence than previously thought regarding our parents and grandparents in their so-called golden years.

Such disparaging beliefs, often dating back to our upbringing and preconceived notions about aging, can play a major factor in the lives of senior citizens.

The bottom line: Older people tend to become what they think they are to others.

“When stereotypes are negative — when seniors are convinced becoming old means becoming useless, helpless or devalued — they are less likely to seek preventive medical care and die earlier, and more likely to suffer memory loss and poor physical functioning, a growing body of research shows,” according to a recent New York Times story that caught my attention.

“When stereotypes are positive — when older adults view age as a time of wisdom, self-realization and satisfaction — results point in the other direction, toward a higher level of functioning,” the story stated.

The difference between the two stereotypes is such an influential factor that seniors who reflect positive age-beliefs are 44 percent more likely to recover fully from a disability or health setback, research shows. Not so with those seniors who buy into negative beliefs and societal comments, which wrongly convince them they are devalued, helpless and even useless.

So senior citizens, are you affected by “age stereotypes,” which play an underlying yet important role in your health, well-being and attitude? Do you buy into this phenomenon? Is it a factor in your life?

When I asked this question to seniors on my social media sites, their responses didn’t surprise me.

“Since I’m over 60, I must have Alzheimer’s and I’m lazy,” one senior woman replied.

“Seniors are expected to volunteer, not hold a paid job — taking a job away from a young person who needs it,” replied another senior.

“Job discrimination is one of the biggest issues. Jobs out there for seniors are nil,” said another one.

But I heard a different tune from Tony and Patty Rose of Valparaiso, who are both in their 60s and who reflect a younger attitude about their lives and lifestyle.

“I’m lucky that I don’t look my age, so I am not a victim of age discrimination,” Tony replied.

“I am more fortunate that I’m healthy because I still can do what my parents could not do when they were my age,” he added. “In fact, I can do what a lot of younger people can’t do.”

Tony insists that staying active — both physically and mentally — is crucial.

“I have a lot of interests that keep my mind fit and my body active,” he said, noting speed walking, guitar playing, gardening, quilting, airplane piloting and hosting his own “Real Country” radio show on WVLP in his city. “I think that to stay young it’s as important to be mentally active as it is to be physical.”

Sex and the senior citizen

The couple, who have known each other since their teenage years, returned to Northwest Indiana last summer to be near their family after living away for a long time. Tony, who grew up in Gary, worked dual careers as a radio broadcaster and educator before retiring.

These days, they routinely challenge each other’s memories by playing mind-challenging games and a few crossword puzzles each day.

“Fortunately this kind of play is healthy,” Tony noted.

Patty credits her passion for running for her secret to staying young and energetic.

“Right now I don’t feel very young or energetic,” she joked, noting jet lag after returning from Florida where she competed, and won, in the master division of a mini-marathon.

“I believe the reason I feel younger than my 61 years is that for 31 years I have been an avid runner and living a healthy lifestyle. A lifestyle that includes daily exercise, healthy eating, and loving family and friends,” she said.

Both of her parents died from heart problems when she was quite young, and she made a conscious decision to be around for her children. Tony had a similar experience.

“I would not become a statistic,” she said. “Running is my passion and it makes me happy. When you are happy you always feel like a little kid.”

According to the research, seniors who lived such a happy, healthy and positive life lived 7.5 years longer than those who embodied negative stereotypes. They also have a stronger will to live, eat a balanced diet, don’t smoke and see their doctor regularly.

More importantly, at least psychologically, they believe they are the pilot who is navigating their own life, rather than a passenger with no control of their destination.

“I simply don’t think of myself as old,” Tony said. “And really, 65 isn’t as old today as it was a couple generations ago.”

One key underlying factor to this rising issue in a graying America is ageism, which is obvious in our youth-slanted, image-worship culture.

Other seniors noted that a healthy sex life is crucial to staying younger and, more importantly, feeling younger.

“I can’t do what I used to do, but I can still do it,” explained a 68-year-old man from St. John.

I love that response, but that’s another column for another day.

Sure, genetics also play a role here, but the fate of Tony’s and Patty’s parents would suggest otherwise.

“Attitude is important,” Tony said. “I always felt younger than my years, even as a child. I was born short and stayed that way making people think I was younger than my years.”

Tony, however, isn’t short on advice for other seniors through his lead-by-example model.

“Stay young,” he replied. “You will be less likely to be stereotyped.”

Find more of Jerry’s writings on Facebook, Twitter, Linked-In, and jerrydavich.wordpress.com.



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