I wonder how many of us realize that the impact of loneliness as we age is the equivalent of smoking 15 cigarettes daily? Or that by the year 2050, 30% of Canada’s population will exceed 60 years of age? These realities have enormous implications for us as individuals and as a society.
Loneliness is extended solitude. Unlike solitude, however, which is often a conscious choice, loneliness usually results from some kind of loss --- personal, physical, professional or societal. Obviously, with age, we see friends and family pass away. What compounds this loss is the demise of the nuclear family. Children are as mobile as their devices and frequently live far away from their older relatives.
Add to these realities the once revered notion of retirement. Unwittingly, retirement often adds to a sense of isolation. Retirement was meant to be that time when we would be able to focus on travel, our hobbies or other enjoyable pursuits. Instead, retirement often signifies the loss of a network of colleagues and friends who are difficult to replace and who intentionally, or not, contributed to a sense of community. It is this sense of togetherness, unity, the social connectedness that is often missing post retirement and the resulting loneliness is one of the most significant contributors to failing health: specifically, heart disease, dementia and diabetes.
If our culture valued our elders for their numerous contributions instead of exclusively revering youth, individuals who once felt positively about themselves might feel more confident about engaging more in meaninful ways. It’s the diminished value that older people experience that makes them vulnerable to a loss of self-esteem, feeling positive about themselves and what they once were able to contribute to society. Their sense of purpose and meaning is questioned by a society that advertises remedies for aging instead of viewing older people as having something to offer.
Ageism (negative stereotyping based on age) is baked into our DNA the way sexism once was. It is so deeply embedded in our language and our psyche that even older adults have internalized the negative impressions that are inherent in ageist comments. We are unaware ourselves.
Ashton Applewhite expresses it better than anyone: “It's not the passage of time that makes it so hard to get older. It's ageism, a prejudice that pits us against our future selves -- and each other." Ashton Applewhite urges us to dismantle the dread and mobilize against the last socially acceptable prejudice. "Aging is not a problem to be fixed or a disease to be cured," she says. "It is a natural, powerful, lifelong process that unites us all."
To avoid the harmful effects of isolation consider the following:
Talk to Family and Friends: Reach out to family and friends every day, even if only by phone. Don’t be a reluctant to use technology to connect; virtual connections are also good for you.
Get a Pet: From small birds to big dogs, pets provide wonderful company.
Stay Fit: Get some exercise! Not only is it good for your mental health and contribute to your self-image, it can also involve social engagement.
Join a Club: Look for a club or Meet-Up of interest to you. Volunteer for an organization you find interesting.
Access Transportation: If you don’t have a car or access to transportation, reach out to your Local Health Integration Network and ask about transportation for the elderly (http://www.lhins.on.ca).
Start a Business or Not-for-Profit: if you can’t find a club or organization that you want to become part of, start one!
For one of the best TED talks and 11 minutes and 37 seconds that you might spend, I’d suggest listening to this.
When considering how to reinvent your later life, think of all the numerous possibilities that an aging population presents. The opportunities are endless with a little bit of imagination and the needed support to get started.
Here are a few general areas that will necessitate new ways of addressing issues for an aging population.
Housing and Transportation
The suburbs were built for a different era. Today we have concerns about carbon emissions and getting from the suburbs (or even more remote areas) to places of work, play, medical care and shops without further harming our fragile planet. None of us want to use our cars as frequently or unnecessarily. Add to this a burgeoning aging population and distance becomes an even greater concern for those who can no longer drive. What types/systems of transportation can we devise for our older friends and relatives?
How and where will we house those who are perfectly capable cognitively but may have physical disabilities? What new types of co-housing, mixed dwelling homes or communities can be established of mutual benefit to those who will need them. Nuclear families have been on their way out for decades and multi-generational living is no longer the norm in our culture. Additionally, Boomers who want to stay in their homes longer than previous generations will need increased help in maintaining their homes and gardens.
There are numerous innovative ways to cater to this growing market so that “aging in place” is possible. Designing new ways of living, commuting, and constructing for more seniors will be essential for successful longevity.
Health and Well-being
People often perceive older folks with a fatalistic lens of decline or deterioration. There are many ways of maintaining health that will involve a huge investment of informed trainers, physiotherapists, coaches among others. Strength and activity are key to aging positively. These activities need to begin sooner rather than later and are relevant to all generations. Today, we are far more concerned about how to maintain our well-being than in generations of the past.
Obviously with age, medical care and assistance will be needed at times. Access to facilities and services will have to be re-invented to accommodate the growing numbers of this older demographic. What new systems can be designed that won’t burden our already scarce healthcare resources? What new apps can be created to help monitor the well-being of seniors in crisis or in need, or simply to make their lives better? What types of homecare services are going to be available to maintain older people in their own homes? The Internet of Things will facilitate it all.
Education and Learning
Life-long learning isn’t just a buzzword. It has serious implications as people age, especially for those who care to remain active and relevant.
Municipalities and school boards offer continuing education that is often of interest to those who want to pursue courses of interest and hobbies. Universities and colleges are open to people of all ages and backgrounds, but if you have ever tried to register in courses as a very mature adult or wait on lines to register, you will realize that some of these services are unsuitable for older people. What are their needs as they enter this stage of life?
Training and retraining courses are on offer by organizations and as part of specialized programs but typically are intended for the more youthful. Where and how are the specific learning and skill development needs of older adults addressed?
Fashion and Design
How often do we consider the “age appropriateness” of a purchase? Is this due to an agist mindset or are there really differences in how we want to be seen and perceived? Whatever the response, there are endless opportunities to explore: new ways of fastening a garment, opening a can, designing furniture, creating patterns for clothing or any other product. The arts and culture provide numerous opportunities to be transformative at any age and for any age.
Both older and younger generations have a stake in creating new markets and making some of these changes available, accessible and affordable for an aging demographic. This presents an opportunity to find meaningful and purpose-driven work at every stage of life. Despite common myths that successful entrepreneurs are younger, it has been proven that older entrepreneurs are the most successful. Don't be distracted by age. Let us help you find your next venture!
On June 27th, the Top 60 Over 60 hosted an event at Thyme and Again. We invited an Innovation Advisor, Anet Greenley, from the Innovation Concierge Service to speak to the gathering. The Concierge Service provides support for innovative businesses to connect to government funding, expertise, facilities, and global opportunities.
The following tips provide some insight into what’s required to access services through the government of Canada.
You need to have a business plan. Your business plan should clearly articulate the problem you are trying to solve.
Obtain market validation, for example, this can be achieved through crowd-funding. The idea is to demonstrate that your idea has a market.
Know your value proposition. Know what makes you more appealing or better than what others in the market have to offer.
Partner, be open to collaboration. Sometimes people come to the concierge service because they believe they need money, when what they really need is collaboration.
Invest in yourself. Be engaged full time and in yourself. It’s difficult to convince others to invest in your business when you are unwilling to invest in yourself.
Map government programs against your strategy. Just because the government doesn’t have a program that fits you now, doesn’t mean they won’t have one in the future so continue to touch base.
For application advice, take a look at the application guidebook. The program may change from year to year; make sure you have the most current requirements.
Use the government’s words when preparing your proposals. This will help those doing the first assessment to accurately assess your fit. Remember, many people are looking for funding from the same sources. Don’t lose out because you are not paying attention to the way questions are phrased.
Focus on realistic and measurable outcomes.
Take a look at who has won grants or loans in the past. This information is generally available online. By assessing past successful applicants you get some sense of what is required to succeed.
Answer the questions that are asked. If they ask for your commercialization strategy – then give them that information. You can disqualify yourself simply by not answering accurately.
Pay attention to the eligibility criteria. Don’t ask for things outside of the criteria or you may be automatically disqualified.
Nobody who knows me would describe me as Pollyanna-like. I am definitely a realist and not naïve when it comes to understanding why aging is such a complex issue. I am negatively disposed, however, to all the pessimism around aging (ageing) and find myself more and more inclined to be contrary and exclaim the virtues of aging--- positively.
Here’s a helpful definition of the concept provided by the Australian Psychological Society. “Positive ageing is a term used to describe the process of maintaining a positive attitude, feeling good about yourself, keeping fit and healthy, and engaging fully in life as you age.”
When you dissect this definition, there are tips that are useful to all of us. Most of these factors, other than perhaps chronic health issues, are within our control or are directly influenced by how we approach life and live it.
Stay connected with friends and family and find ways to develop new meaningful relationships. Surround yourself with those who love you or those who make you feel good about yourself. Avoid those relationships that undermine your self-esteem and self-worth. According to some studies, those of us who at age 50 see ourselves in a positive light live up to 7.5 years longer.
Continue to learn, study, play new games, think! Our minds and our brains do not shrink or stagnate. This has been disproved with brain research on neuroplasticity. The brain is constantly rewiring itself and is not hard-wired the way we once thought. Through social connections and physical exercise and keeping up mentally, we can slow the decline of cognition by 5-10 years.
Maintain health and fitness. Notwithstanding chronic debilitating illness, physical exercise helps preserve your balance and mobility, sustains your mental capacity, brings a more optimistic outlook. Through strength training, you can also reduce the loss of muscle mass.
Adopt a positive mindset. Find ways to feel good about yourself and what you do. Make conscious choices about which places you visit and the activities you do. Ensure that you enjoy doing these rather than engaging in unpleasant situations. Reducing stress levels is critical to positive aging because stress may affect your immune system and cause illness. It also affects mental acumen.
Aging positively is about the quality of your life not the quantity although science now supports that a positive mindset will affect longevity as well. The Top 60 Over 60 is about creating that dynamic learning community that engages its members, builds new relationships, creates new ventures and enterprises all within a positive supportive environment.
The internet and social media have transformed the ways in which we do business today but some things never change. Relationship building is at the heart of networking and is more important than ever.
With Facebook, Linked In, Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter and other means of connecting, the face-to-face encounter serves a greater purpose. Networking necessitates interaction. Those interpersonal skills combined with emotional intelligence are often proven to be as important as having the perfect resume.
Networking is about creating relationships and not about selling. Put the needs of the other person first and try to figure out how you can help them through introductions to others, by sharing best practices or telling them about something relevant to their needs. Once you’ve made that personal connection, then follow up digitally using LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook or other social media platforms. This allows you to continue to reach out with links, articles or messages you think might be of interest to particular individuals or group connections. Don’t wait until you need something to connect, no one likes a fair weather friend.
As Maya Angelou so aptly said: “I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."
Quick tips for staying connected:
Take quick notes on the back of business cards that will help you follow up later.
Ask good questions when meeting people. The only way to get to know someone is by asking questions.
If you see an article that might be of interest to someone, share it with them.
Use LinkedIn to acknowledge work anniversaries or birthdays.
Follow through after meeting someone by inviting them to join you on LinkedIn.
Make sure your body reflects your genuine interest. Make eye contact, nod and smile in agreement when appropriate.
Agism is one of the remaining prejudices that go largely unchallenged in the 21st Century. Television and film often depict older adults as out of touch or mentally deteriorating. Unfortunately, these misperceptions can carry through to real life.
Ageism is one of the remaining prejudices that go largely unchallenged in the 21st Century. Television and film often depict older adults as out of touch or mentally deteriorating. Unfortunately, these misperceptions can carry through to real life. Debunking these myths with facts is one of the first steps towards reducing ageism and getting to the truth about growing older.
Myth #1 Boomers take jobs away from younger generations.
Known as the “lump of labour fallacy” by economists, this false belief promotes the idea that the number of jobs in an economy is fixed. Evidence shows, however, that keeping older people in the workforce is associated with improved employment for younger people. When older people continue to work, they enjoy the benefits of having more money to spend boosting the economy, which in turn creates jobs for everyone.
Myth #2 The expiry date on productivity is 65. Older workers have less to offer as they age.
There is no relationship between age and job performance according to academic studies when it comes to productivity. In fact, experience is proven to give older adults the performance edge.
Myth #3 Younger entrepreneurs are more successful than older ones.
Research shows that not only do more older people start businesses but that these businesses are more successful on average.
The average and median age of US born tech founders was 39 when they started their companies. Twice as many were older than 50 as were younger than 25.
From 1996-2007, those between the ages of 55-64 had a higher rate of entrepreneurial activity than their counterparts aged 20-34. Evidence proves that they are also more successful.
Myth #4 If time is taken off after retirement, it’s impossible to get back into the workforce
Approximately 40% of those who retire tend to take a break for 2 years and then return. The reason for returning to work is not always out of financial need but for the purpose of maintaining social interactions and keeping minds sharp.
62% of workers aged 65 and older are full time, up from 44% in 1995.
Myth #5 Boomers are unable to find decent jobs.
This cohort of baby boomers are succeeding at finding jobs with better pay, status and working conditions than older workers of generations in the past.
Harvey Sterns, Journal of Vocational Behavior Volume 47, Issue 3, December 1995, Pages 248-268
Agism can impact who you know, what you do and how you do it. Here are some tips for identifying and managing ageism.
The effects of agism on businesses can range from lost productivity, lost potential and lost workers. The effects on directly impacted workers can include negative social, psychological and economic outcomes. In short, ageism harms us all.
What is agism?
Agism is stereotyping and discrimination on the basis of a person’s age. It is one of the last “isms” left to eradicate. It is isolating, alienating, damaging to a sense of purpose and general well-being and it has also been proven to shorten lives.
Agism applies equally to the belief that one might be “too young” to do something but in our western, youth-obsessed society, the “too old” are typically those that get short shrift.
Examples of agism
Getting fired from a job because of age.
Being turned down for car or travel insurance or being refused an interest free credit card due to age.
Receiving poor service in a store because of the management’s attitude towards older people.
Being rejected for membership in a club or association because of age.
Although agism is frustrating it can be managed. Here are a few tips for combatting ageism.
Enjoy your age. By embracing yourself you set a positive attitude and example for others to follow. The first step to acceptance, for anyone, is accepting yourself.
Take opportunities to be part of intergenerational activities. Over the last few years, we have seen an increasing level of segregation by age. It is an unhealthy approach for all of us, both economically and emotionally and is one of the central contributors to agism.
Don't use age to tease. Avoid "funny" jokes that talk about being over the hill or being past prime or other negative language such as, "senior moments".
Watch your language. By continually referencing the differences between your age and others you could inadvertently reinforce bias. For instance, expressions like, "back in my day..." imply that your day is over.
Don't accept agism. If someone uses agist language or references on you, then call them on it. Suggest alternatives or tell them that you would prefer they not reference you that way.
The Top 60 over 60, works to eradicate agism, recognize and celebrate the accomplishments of older adults. Intergenerational learning and collaboration are at the heart of what we do.