“There is a lot of rhetoric around aging and its impact on healthcare, but the doom and gloom prophesies of a healthcare system facing crisis due to an aging population may not necessarily be the case,” thinks Professor Holly Tuokko, the Director for the Centre on Aging at the University of Victoria. “Evidence shows that seniors of today are not the seniors of yesterday. People are aging healthier.” And studies are beginning to show that.
One of the important studies Professor Tuokko and the Centre is involved with is the Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging – a study involving over 50,000 persons, in which every aspect of people’s lives are included. The hope is that the forthcoming results of this study will not only lead to new government policies but also to new attitudes within society.
“With this study, we can look at all the factors across the board. For example, we know that poverty affects the health of older persons – Why is that? We know that exercise has a large effect on their health, and what we eat also.” She also pointed to concerns around quality of life, and that researchers are looking at the effect of these factors too.
We are a culture that does not hold a positive view of aging. How many of us have rolled our eyes as an aged relative launched into the fiftieth rendition of his memories as a young boy, without understanding why he feels the need to share those stories? Or felt impatient with the elderly person in front of us at the grocery checkout as they sought to find the exact change? Part of the problem is the general stereotyping and negative assumptions associated with age such as we see in advertising, movies and TV sitcoms. “We encounter it everywhere,” said Professor Tuokko. “Our society is full of ageism – look at greeting cards, for example. Is that humor masking an ignorance and dismissiveness of age within our culture?”
Not all cultures are so dismissive of older persons; rather, some societies celebrate and learn from them. In earlier times our culture did honor the wisdom of its elders, often shared through many of the stories now recorded in the Bible and other sacred writings. The stories are incredibly human, yet also divinely inspiring with important lessons that I have found useful in maintaining my health and healing illness as I grow older.
Dr. Tuokko agrees, saying, “We have found that people are seeking – whether they call it religion or spirituality or a framework for positioning their lives. They have questions – Did their life have meaning? Has their life made a difference? Some have regrets, others are dealing with resentment or grief.” Many who ask these questions, like her father, do not belong to a religious group. Her dad regularly visited a Spiritual Care Coordinator in his facility. “He wanted to know whether he had given enough back to society.”
Understanding the significance of sharing life experiences is important. Finding forgiveness or healing from grief through reminiscences brings peace. Loneliness and social isolation are assuaged when a person feels listened to. Acknowledging that a life has made a difference is perhaps the most important health-giving gift we can give one another.
No matter what our age or what stage of life we are at, the determination to cultivate a more meaningful life improves our health and longevity. Listening to and learning from the wisdom of our elders can not only give us a whole new perspective on life but also enhance both their and our wellbeing.
Anna Bowness-Park is a Christian Science practitioner who also writes frequently on the relationship between spirituality and health. You can read her blog at http://anna-bownesspark.ca or follow her on Twitter @bownesspark.
You can read more of articles from the multifaith blog Spiritually Speaking HERE
This article was first published on the Faith Forum page of the print edition of the Times Colonist on November 16 2013