What’s it Like to Be Old?


“I’m here to be me, which is taking a great deal longer than I had hoped.”

-Anne Lamott

I don’t know if you’ve noticed – perhaps you don’t scour sources on aging like I do – but the rarified air of experts on aging is growing, and with social media and the aging of the Boomer generation, we’re all getting in on the latest awakening whether we’ve been looking for it or not. More opinion, more research, more articles and books, more suggestions are racing into print and podcasts as the population of us over-65 elders is mushrooming worldwide. This is good. Mostly very good.

Fortunately, not all of the experts speak the same language on aging. There is a helpful diversity on the subject. That can be good. Unfortunately, not every language is helpful. Some of it has given me some concern, even as I’m amazed and heartened by much of the rest. Especially as it relates to ageism.


Ageism has become the topic du jour in increasingly large circles, and I’m one of those who’s ready to gobble up any information or commentary on the years in which I now live: those years in which, like the word or not, I am “old.” I can either accept the fact that my body has been churning its way along for 78 long years and that all living things begin to lose some physical prowess, or I can fight the inevitable changes that show up to surprise and, often, challenge me.

After some years of doing battle with my aging, I finally voted for acceptance. And I’ve learned that acceptance is not the same as surrendering who I am. It is the foundation of the Old-Woman-Me in progress. It is the means of grace. It is the way I negotiate the limits and the opportunities that are still very much with me. Every day. I learn to accept what is and reach out for what can yet be. I am not alone. I have many elder sisters and brothers who have made the same choice.

It’s the big reason why I write this blog.

Aging gracefully. Aging well. Aging positively. Aging successfully. We’re still looking for a perfect adjective to encourage us and give us direction. Every one of us is new at this business of getting old. So I’m often assured by Rumi’s wisdom: “We’re all just walking each other home.” This blog is intended to walk the paths ahead together.

Whatever adjectives we choose, they’re all rooted in hope as we confront our own ageism. Hope that old age won’t be the worst age of our lives. Hope that we have at least some control over how our aging turns out. Hope that our old age will turn out to be one of our best ages.

The good news is that we do have some control over how our aging turns out. And for more and more of us, it does turn out to be one of the best times of our lives, especially in our 70’s and 80’s. But it’s helpful to navigate wisely the growing information and advice that claim to have just the right answers for all of us.

Reputable research is showing some encouraging news. Our brains can retool more than we realized: it’s called neuroplasticity. Such a musical name for a magical discovery! So it turns out that in those times when I think I’m just being lazy, Sudoku, solitaire or jigsaw puzzles are actually feeding my brain with the broccoli and kale and blueberries and salmon of neuroplasticity! Eureka!

Research is also showing that massive decline is not a given. Some will happen. Bodies wear down. Some parts wear out. But with the medical advances that have come booming forth in recent years, with the proof that exercise and good eating and good sleep can make a difference, and with new medicines and procedures that are possible now…there is a wider parameter for hope than ever.

It also turns out that our brains are wired to respond to our moods and can be made healthier by our attitudes. Brains that are washed in hope thank us. Those that are fed gratitude can tend to stay healthier. Those that are challenged by creativity actually go through some pretty sophisticated rewiring. And the wonderful things is, it can be so much fun!

Here is where “not every language is helpful,” though. When we are led to believe that all of this good stuff is going to make for universally good outcomes, we can turn to blaming ourselves and others when our aging turns out to be less than ideal. That is not only unfair, it is the face of intolerance. We do not control all of our aging finally. We can control what we can, but there are things that are out of our hands.

The other problematic language about aging uses, as the primary model of “successful” aging, those elders who have been uncommonly successful living high up on the pinnacles of life. The exceptional pre – and post – elders. Bravo to them! I love to read their stories of reaching the highest reaches of success in their endeavors – still at it at 61! 61? Get back to me when they’re still there at 78. (But I digress.)

To make the radically exceptional – as admirable as they are – the template for what aging is supposed to look like for everyone, does a disservice to those whose aging looks different – smaller or less important in comparison – but nonetheless amazingly “successful.”

The problem is that not everyone is geared to do the exceptional. Most of us are doing the wonderful, challenging our own limits in less spectacular ways, but doing it just as bravely. Having the same kind of courage and creativity and positivity that is admired, just on smaller stages.

All of the extravagant striving of the most admired elders is good. But “regular folks” have also kicked the ageism problem to the curb. Their stories may not be as glamorous, not fodder for magazine articles or news specials. But they are there.

The best example that I know is Doris Carnevali, who lives in the Seattle area. A news station there did a feature on her. Why? Because Doris is 97 and writing a beautiful weekly blog about aging. Which she began 2 years ago at age 95. Now that is exceptional. And her blog, www.engagingagingblog.com is winsome and big-hearted and so wise as she analyzes and makes peace with her changing life at 97. She is bright and warm and humble and I’m so glad to have found her. And she has Swedish roots, which gives her extra credit in my book.

Grace shows up for all of us, more often than we might realize. It’s a big part of what gets us through. Grace is Doris and all the other bloggers about aging; it is the experts with impressive titles and credentials who now have platforms to share what they know with us. It is every friend and aging companion who walks our aging with us with laughter and compassion and realism and hope. We are all truly here “to be me,” and this time of life is no exception.

And I’m very okay with that.

(You can head over to my Resources page to see the sites that I’ve come to trust and enjoy and learn from.)