Many people worry more these days about the older adults in their lives, due to their greater risk of getting COVID-19 and of experiencing complications from the virus. Many older adults share this worry as well. But perhaps less well-known is that aging brings with it many advantages for coping with these difficult times.
Stanford University psychologist Laura Carstensen did a survey of 1,000 U.S. adults at the start of the pandemic. She found that older respondents were less likely to feel anxious than their younger counterparts. They were also more likely to experience positive emotions like calm, interest and appreciation.
This is just one example of how aging actually has many advantages. Although we live in a youth-obsessed culture, it is important to remember that every life stage has its own ups and downs. With that in mind, let us take a closer look at some of the things that get better as we age.
The Mature Brain
A study of air traffic controllers and airline pilots found that those over 50 took longer to master new equipment. Once they did master it, however, they made fewer mistakes. The takeaway: Older brains may take a little longer to learn new things, but they do a fantastic job of retaining that new knowledge.
It is true that processing speed slows down the older we get. Some parts of the brain do shrink, and blood flow may decrease. Even healthy older adults may find it harder to remember names, and multitasking becomes more difficult, according to the National Institute on Aging.
The good news is that the older brain excels in many ways that compensate for these changes. For one thing, older adults simply use more gray matter when performing cognitive tasks. According to Harvard Medical School, MRI studies have found that teenagers mostly use only one side of the prefrontal cortex when solving a problem. By middle age, both sides begin to light up. In seniors, both hemispheres share in the task equally.
The older you get, the more accumulated knowledge you have to bolster your decision-making. Your vocabulary and language skills continue to develop throughout your lifetime. Older adults are less likely to rush to judgment, and more apt to make rational decisions grounded in facts. Spatial reasoning and basic math skills may also get better with age.
Carstensen notes two important traits that helped her older survey participants in dealing with unsettling events like the coronavirus pandemic. The first is experience. Because seniors have lived through more negative situations, they have learned first-hand how to cope with stress.
Second, older folks are less likely to dwell on the negative aspects of life and better able to emphasize the positive. They are more focused on the present and less likely to worry about the future. Because of their emotional resiliency, seniors are well-equipped to help younger people learn how to manage stress in their own lives.
Positive Personality Changes
A process known as “personality maturation” starts in our teens and extends well into our elder years. It occurs in different cultures all around the world.
While the individual traits that make us unique persist, many aspects of our personalities evolve for the better over time. Older adults become more conscientious, agreeable and altruistic. They exhibit stronger willpower and a better sense of humor. Happiness increases with age, with seniors expressing greater satisfaction with their lives.
Finally, it is often said that older folks develop wisdom. But what, exactly, does that mean? Wisdom is about so much more than a mere knowledge of facts. To be wise is to draw on one’s knowledge and experience for making sound judgments, both for oneself and for others. It includes emotional skills like empathy, compassion and openness to new ideas. Elders tend to become both more generous toward others and more confident in themselves. They know how to look at the big picture and are particularly adept at finding realistic solutions to life’s problems.
These are just a few great reasons to embrace your age and celebrate all that you’ve learned and accomplished. This is a time in your life for cherishing relationships both old and new. It’s a time for treasuring memories from the past while discovering new things.
At the Terrace Retirement Community, we take pride in offering a vibrant, healthy lifestyle for active seniors. Our residents enjoy abundant opportunities for fun, intellectual engagement and quality time with friends.
Contact us today to request an information packet or to schedule a visit!