Getting old gets pretty bad press most of the time.
The recent Royal Commission into Aged Care was very necessary. But it’s also left us with the impression that a high proportion of older Australians are doomed to end their days frail, dependent and confined in a purpose-built facility.
Happily, this is far from true.
Whilst, according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 7% of Australians aged 65 and over are currently in an aged care residence, nearly all of the remaining 93% will live out their entire lives in their own homes. (The exception, of course, being those who are homeless).
So instead of a pervasive view of dependence, it’s time we recognised the independence and choices the majority of older Australians have. As with every other age group these choices can be both exciting and endless.
But there is a secret sauce attached to life for older Australians and here, in no particular order, are the five ingredients that make getting older a time when it feels as though life is just getting better.
First up is a noticeable decline in our need to strive, to be earnest, to pin all our hopes on that one important outcome. True maturity now allows us to care about achieving our goals, but no longer needing to grasp the ‘all or nothing’ mantra. Yes, we want to get there, but you now know, deep in your bones, if Plan A doesn’t work, it’s far from a disaster. Plan B will no doubt prove to be better, anyway.
The second ingredient, time, is a fragile concept. But getting older often means gaining more of this precious commodity. And the rewards are indescribably good. Time to chat, time to call friends and family, time to sit and think, time to stroll, time to notice beauty in our neighbourhoods, parks, our partner’s face. Time to simply be.
Which leads to ingredient three – appreciation. Some of us are born being grateful for what we receive. Most of the rest of us have to learn this rare skill. It’s not a quality that always improves with age, but it does seem that extra years on this planet often sharpen our sense of appreciation for what we have. Maybe the longer we are alive, the more we can lose, and so we finally start to understand how very fragile our health, relationships and blessings really are. Here one day, gone the next. An enhanced sense of appreciation is a marvellous thing – and coupled with more time to reach out and celebrate our nearest and dearest, will hopefully lead to fewer life regrets when change inevitably does occur.
The next ingredient also isn’t guaranteed to arrive with age, but it often does. There are ‘know-it-alls’ of all ages, but growing older and having more time often evokes a desire to stop talking and start listening. Some kind of humility will often descend wherein the words of others start to carry far greater weight than our own. This leads to another amazing shift and by listening more actively we often find that our long-held beliefs and opinions are no longer valid, nor useful. Nothing really is that black and white any more. People and societies evolve and the time to consider these changes and re-form our attitudes is a marvellous gift – not just to ourselves, but to the long-suffering friends and family around us.
And that brings us to the fifth ingredient, arguably the most important. Friends. There is simply no substitute for our friends. And the longer established our friendship, the easier it can become. It is a wonderful privilege to have had good people in your life for 30, 40 or even more years. You’ve been around the block together, a few times. You’ve shared life-changing events such as marriage, parenthood, divorce, illness and other forms of loss. You’ve supported each other and understood when to laugh and when to cry, together. There really are no friends like old friends. And that doesn’t even begin to describe what it’s like to have someone special who knows us and loves us despite this knowledge, who loves us exactly as we are, for as long as we are around.
Men and women have supposedly been in search of an elixir of youth for centuries. But who needs it? Those of us lucky enough to age with good health and a roof over our heads are already enjoying that secret sauce.