The phrase “age is a state of mind” holds more truth than you think.
When I was younger, I had a 50-year-old friend who viewed each minor ache and pain as a precursor to a visit from the Grim Reaper.
Then there’s 82-year-old Sanford Alberts.
He works out every day; reports to work at Baylor Regional Medical Center in Plano, Texas, at 4 a.m. on Tuesdays to greet those scheduled for surgery; and two years ago engaged in tandem sky diving at a fundraising event for The Senior Source, where he volunteers.
The Dallas resident also teaches safe driving for AARP and is a volunteer at the DFW Ambassador program, which assists travelers at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.
For Alberts, life couldn’t be happier during these senior years.
“I consider it a good time of my life, that I have good health,” he said. “When you have good health, everything is possible. You have quality of life.”
If you want to live a healthy life in old age, how you view aging can make a significant difference. Experts and studies say certain “age stereotypes” held by seniors can affect their health — for better or worse.
For example, when seniors see themselves as useless, helpless or devalued, they’re less likely to seek preventive medical care and more likely to suffer memory loss and poor physical functioning and to die earlier.
“A person who’s depressed might not be eating properly, they may not take their medication properly, they may fail to pay their bills on time, and that can all influence their health and their ability to maintain independent living,” said Debi Weiner, coordinator of gerontology services at Jewish Family Service of Dallas.
In a study reported on last year in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers at the Yale School of Public Health and the Yale School of Medicine found that older people with “positive age stereotypes” were 44 percent more likely to “fully recover from a severe disability than those with negative age stereotypes.”
“A lot of how old someone acts and how old someone physically is has a lot to do with how old they feel they are mentally,” said Katie Dickinson, associate executive director at the Senior Source, who conducts a presentation on “Living to be 100.”
“There are lots of studies that say that people who feel that they’re healthy … are healthier.”
Bert Hayslip, a psychology professor at the University of North Texas, said seniors should think positively about how their years have made them wise and experienced.
“Here’s someone with these unique skills, these unique qualities, who may have internalized this sense of ‘Well, what I can expect? I’m old,’ ” said Hayslip, who specializes in gerontological counseling.
It’s important they see aging “in a more positive but realistic manner,” appreciating what is unique about them and what they can contribute to other people, he said.
“You might serve as a mentor to someone who’s younger,” Hayslip said.
That also addresses another critical need for seniors — social engagement and interaction.
“The only way you’re going to have things to look forward to is if you get out and do things,” Dickinson said. “Once you get out and do things, you’ll have things to look forward to, and that’s going to make you feel better mentally, and it will also make you feel better physically because you’re more involved.”
If a senior is homebound and can’t get out to see other people, they have to come to him or her, Weiner said.
“Family members and communities need to remember that people need contact,” she said. “They need social contact with other people, and if someone is unable to get out, then people need to come in.”
Alberts said he has a rich social life that includes seeing his grandchildren and members of the opposite sex.
“I’m single. I have women in my life,” he said. “I go to dinner, I don’t have financial problems.”
He said he dates several women, but only “one at a time.”
“You have to create your life,” Alberts said. “You just can’t wait for things to happen.”
Alberts is considering going to the Philippines this summer to volunteer at an orphanage.
“When you serve others, you serve yourself, and you get back more than you give,” he said.
“I look for opportunities to serve others.”“