Recently, there has been a slew of new articles exploring the idea that age is just a state of mind. The New York Times Magazine, Huffington Post, and the UK Daily Mail, just to name a few outlets, have all recently done pieces about “age as a mindset” (I’ll include some links at the end).
The other day I was talking with a friend about some of my favorite bands, nearly all of whom are from the 1960s and 70s. My friend asked me how I could enjoy listening to rock and roll made by, in his words, a bunch of old guys (for reference, Mick Jagger will turn 72 later this year and the Rolling Stones are still touring strong).
I told him I don’t see them that way. To me, they are still the same rock and rollers they always were. I just don’t think of them as old – weathered maybe (do a Google image search for Keith Richards and you’ll probably agree) – but not old.
All of the recent articles that delve into the proposition that age is just a state of mind boil down to two main things: the first being the person’s engagement level in their own life, that is, their ability and willingness to make their own decisions or plans and then carry them out without any outside help. The second is the perceptions that a person develops regarding themselves, and it’s inherently linked to their agency (or lack thereof) in their own lives.
A prime example: the NY Times Magazine article referenced a Harvard study in which people were essentially put in a controlled environment that simulated the world as it was when they were younger. They watched old movies and read copies of the newspapers from the 1950s – the researchers even removed all mirrors and only put up photos of the subjects from when they were in their twenties.
At the end of the study, they found that the group who had been treated like they were young actually got healthier. After recreating the original experiment, they even had one subject who went into the study in a wheelchair and walked out with a cane.
Now, I don’t think we need to go to the extremes that the researchers at Harvard went to, but I think there are important lessons that senior living communities can take away from these kinds of research. The main one is this: respect for our elders is paramount, but respect shouldn’t mean coddling or treating them like invalids. The key to vitalization is to give people the freedom, inspiration – and yes, even challenges – that give them agency and keep them engaged in living.
When you challenge and engage people in their own lives, even if it’s something small, such as asking them to carry their own suitcase, you also remind them that they are still capable, and that is a powerful thing.
From The New York Times Magazine: “What if Age Is Nothing but a Mind-Set?”
From the UK Daily Mail: “Old age is simply a ‘state of mind’ – and enjoying life to the full can keep you young”