Preventative Measures to Protect Against Grumpy Old Lady Syndrome
There is an old joke that if you want to get a room full of eighty-year-old women to swear, shout “Bingo”. Of course we think of Bingo as a stereotype of old age, but of course when we are an eighty-something, that won’t be us. Right? Somehow we all think that aging is something that either won’t happen to us, or will happen differently. No matter how we see our future, we see aging as a negative. We hardly ever talk about how wonderful aging can be- the possibilities, the growth, the reinvention. Yes, some people age into grumpy old ladies, but some don’t. We can’t control our entire destiny in regards to how we will turn out when we find ourselves in that Bingo room, but we can prepare for aging well by taking steps towards becoming the old lady that, despite her cataracts and oxygen tank, sees the best and smells the roses. It’s all about the habits and roots that we cultivate now that determine our happiness and satisfaction later. With that in mind, here are six steps to take now to guarantee you won’t be a total grouch.
Build your social ties. The happiest people and the healthiest people have social networks to support them. Work now on engaging in groups, organizations, and networks of people with which you have shared interests and values. Regardless of whether you will be able to spend actual face to face time with these people in your later years, the connection (no matter how far) will benefit your health.
Be active in day-to-day activities. Yes, it is important to exercise while we can, but even more important is to develop habits that naturally promote us being active. Using the stairs, hanging the laundry, walking to the store, and playing with the dog are all everyday activities that encourage us to use our bodies to their full capacity.
Love your job. More than anyone or anything, the majority of your waking hours will be spent with your job. When you retire and get older, this will be the single largest thing, besides your family, that will define how you think about yourself. If you are in a job that you don’t love, find one you do now.
Discover music that you love. The power of music is a universally uplifting and enlivening tool. Ask anyone who has worked with the older adult population, especially those with dementia, and they will tell you about how music can engage and transform.
Cultivate a hobby that uses your hands. When we get older, we may not be able to travel, kayak, or fix up old cars like we used to when we were younger. This is why it is so important to develop at least one hobby that we will be able to do later in life. Whether it is painting, crocheting, gardening, playing the piano, or ping pong- find something you enjoy that you will be able to keep with you and modify until later in life.
Write your story. There may come a day when other people will need to tell your story for you. Especially for those that develop dementia, often family is expected to fill in the blanks for caregivers so that they can create a care plan. You want them to know what matters, what you like, and how you want to be treated. Filling out a document like The Five Wishes or simply writing a short Life Story are both excellent ways of insuring you’ll be treated with dignity and compassion.
As someone who has dedicated my career to serving older adults, I have been in the middle of several Bingo-fueled brawls. From my experience, the biggest determining factor of grumpy old lady or sweet old lady is our perspective and idea of who we are. I have been a daily shoulder for those who feel the weight of a failing body and loss of independence, and a cheerleader for those who decide that they want to reinvent themselves as they move into assisted living. One thing is for sure; the way we feel when we are old has much less to do with our circumstances and everything to do with the life we have led up to that point. By taking steps now, we can set ourselves up to be the old lady at Bingo who has a great time no matter what.