The senior journey
By Lilianne Fuller
Today’s medical technology and scientific advances have led to people in North America living longer. Many are living into their 80’s and 90’s, with some reaching that milestone age of 100. A handful of people are going beyond, as centenarians.
This has led to a new phenomenon. Today, society has three generations of seniors – the youthful senior, 55-70, the middle aged senior, 71-80, and the aged senior at 85 plus. But at what age does one qualify to be a senior? Depending on whom you ask, the official age varies. A Canadian seniors’ magazine suggests age 50. McDonald’s Restaurants say a senior is anyone 55 and older. Canada Pension can start at 60 but to qualify for old age security, Revenue Canada requires that you be 65.
Today’s lifestyles and improved health outcomes enable those in their 60’s to be a ‘youthful’ senior. Far more active than their parents, some are still working, providing daycare for grandchildren and volunteering in the community. In many cases the onset of the 60’s brings about more of an acceptance of self. Rita Squires, 63, describes it this way. “What I love about my age is that I’m finally comfortable with who I am, tummy and all. I do not feel a need to pretend or over compensate for anything. This is me. Take it or leave it,” she says.
Youthful seniors however, are not without their challenges. Striving to stay healthy is a common one that requires making choices. “Foods I used to love now cause inflammation and pain, and finding the willpower to eat more healthily is my challenge,” commented Rita. Maintaining good health also requires an exercise regime. Craig, another senior at 65 does Tai Chi and Zumba Gold. “I need to maintain flexibility and Zumba Gold is great for my cardio-vascular,” he explains.
While striving to remain vibrant, youthful seniors are realistic about their own mortality. They’ve witnessed problems the previous generation faced due to a lack of end-of-life planning. In some cases, family relationships suffered because a will wasn’t in place. “If more people took control of their end of life issues and wishes now, there would be far fewer family feuds after that burdensome job,” said Rita.
The next sector belongs to the middle-aged seniors. Like the youthful senior, they face their own unique benefits and challenges. Ron and Wendy Moore are in their mid 70’s and while having made no deliberate plans to ‘age in place’, they do live in a rancher style townhouse. They bought their home in the mid 90’s and today’s market has seen the value of it almost triple. Wise investments and a pension have helped them enjoy all that life has to offer. Ron admits that a failing memory is a challenge but having the ability to do what they want, when they want, makes up for it.
Some middle-aged seniors are less fortunate. Experiencing failing health and living alone has led to loneliness. “I can’t dance anymore because of my health – which upsets me,” said Louise who is 78. “I spend a lot of time alone which I find hard because I’m a social person,” she adds. On the plus side, however, she admits that she can come and go as she pleases.
Each senior offers similar advice. “Don’t put off what you want to do. The time goes by so fast and the next thing you know is that it really is too late,” said Louise. Ron and Wendy concur, saying “Do everything you can afford to do before your body will not allow you”.
At age 87, Lyal Anderson and his wife Sheila are aged seniors. They have been married for more than 54 years and enjoy their memories of yesteryear. They also take delight in each new day.”I like the newness of each day as it breaks,” Lyal adds with optimism “…finding new friends and helping others while knowing that each new day is a gift,” he added.
By far the greatest challenge the couple face is staying healthy. They say that while following the doctor’s physical and dietary advice can be difficult, they do reap the reward of staying in reasonably good health. As a young couple they didn’t think about how long they would live. Lyal admits that in some ways he didn’t plan as wisely as he might have. “I always thought that age is but a number and what I earned was for the day at hand,” he said. But the couple’s selection of a manufactured home in a senior’s park has worked out well. “With access to good people, access to services, this has been a real success. We live a simple and caring life. We love each other, our neighbours and friends and our families,” he added.
Having lived through each generation, Lyal offers some sage advice. “Love the ‘one’ of your life and make plans for both of you. Always be what you can and should be,” he said. To his peers he adds, “Your age is your reward; live and love for many more years to come.”