There are so many myths about aging. For instance, do you think, as many do, that “all old people are alike,” and that nobody changes after about the age of 50?
Nothing could be farther from the truth. Freud’s famous statement that people couldn’t change after the age of 50 simply isn’t true. At the time he formed his theories, most people didn’t live past 50, and that of course shaped his views. He may not have seen a lot of people over 50.
In fact this limited exposure to people in older age groups continues to confound our understanding. A lot of the psychological assessments available weren’t normed on enough people over the age of 60 to make them reliable for individuals in that age group. It’s all about developmental stages and you wouldn’t expect “normal” to mean the same thing for a 75 year old as a 42 year old and more than for a 6 year old and a 12 year old.
Seniors are not alike as individuals or as a group. Surveys show that the most “contented” people are people aged 60-69, but at the same time, the highest suicide rates of any age group occur among individuals 65 and older. 81% of senior suicides are male and Anglo males are particularly vulnerable. White males over 65 have the highest suicide rate, second only to white adolescent males. Suicide rates are higher for those who are divorced or widowed, and cause is attributed first to physical ailments, and then to depression.
The percentage of seniors in the population has risen steadily from 3% in 1900, to about 12% now. It’s projected to increase to 21% in the next 30 years. Since most emotional problems are often presented first to a primary care physician, as physical problems (headache, backache), medical schools are hastening to add exposure to geriatric medicine and psychology in the training of doctors. Psychology licensing boards are also beginning to require it.
It’s important to understand that depression manifests itself in different ways. We usually think of the “lethargic” depressed person, the one who moves and thinks slowly, can’t sustain eye contact, talks negatively, is disinterested or unable to enjoy their usual pleasures, and wants to sleep all the time. But depressed people can also be agitated, angry, restless, irritable, eyes darting around, frantically trying to enjoy things (but not able to), and not able to sleep much.
In either case, women may talk about the feelings, but men tend to complain about physical ailments when they see a doctor.
It’s important to understand that depression isn’t a “normal” part of aging, and that it's treatable. If you think you’re depressed, or that your loved one is, it’s good to start with a physical checkup. You should be make a list of all medications being taken, and also consider the normal routine. Many seniors, especially those who live alone, neglect nutrition and exercise.
As I say in my ebook, “EQ and Depression,” you aren’t supposed to be depressed as you age. You’re supposed to feel good. Many seniors have a high EQ, are resilient, and are experienced copers. EQ intends to increase with age, but not if you don’t work on it. Skills such as flexiblity, creativity and resilience can be learned, and it pays to start developing them in early adulthood, as they take time to learn. Barring physical problems, you can learn to manage your emotions and the thoughts that accompany, and cause, them.
We know that isolation is worse on our health than high blood pressure and obesity combined, and it not being isolated depends upon your interpersonal skills – your ability to make new friends and keep the old ones.
Creativity is needed to learn to work around things that change. It tends to take longer, for instance, to learn new things as we age, but many seniors are adept at “many ways to skin a cat.” Likewise there are ways to make the short-term memory loss less bothersome. Short-term memory loss is one of the things that does come with aging, but the vast experience of seniors in coping gives them a vast store of tricks to pull ou of the bag to help them remember.
As one of my senior coaching clients tells me, “My short-term memory’s off about 10%, but since it used to be far above-average, I’m doing fine. Now I just write things down, like I’ve seen others do for years.”
The ability to creatively meet challenges depends upon having an optimistic attitude, which also can be learned. I coach people in learned optimism and emotional intelligence competencies all the time! If you want to, and are willing to, you can learn to change self-limiting beliefs, once you realize they aren’t working for you. It depends upon correct information (like it’s not “normal” to be depressed at any age, including old age) and then becoming aware of your emotions and self-talk, and changing them.
Depression usually responds best to a regime of exercise, good nutrition including neutraceuticals, medication, and cognitive work. Coaching can help you move forward, make goals and stay accountable to them.
We also know that resilient seniors are lifelong learners. While we don’t make any more brain cells as adults, we can continue to form new connections throughout the lifespan IF we learn new things; the more radical the better. This means if you’re an engineer, take a literature course. If you’re a Spanish teacher, study some physics. If you’re a left-brained mathematician, take an EQ course and develop the other side of your brain. As someone said, “fall in love with learning and you’ll never end up with a broken heart”.
Intentionality is a high-order emotional intelligence competency. Why not intend to be one of those seniors who’s resilient and contented, who ages gracefully? Look to your wellness now, whatever age you are, and don’t leave out the EQ skills. The time to be developing them is now.
Our emotions directly effect our immune sytem, which is our health. They also effect our ability to get along with, and enjoy, others and ourselves. Men may particularly want to address the EQ issue. I know from the statistics, and from my coaching practice, that a man living alone at the age of 60 or beyond is in a vulnerable position, and while there are more men at that age than women, the smart women will be holding out for the healthy, EQ-smart men to bless with the health-promoting marital state.
Get started now. It’s never too late to learn!
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©Susan Dunn, MA, The EQ Coach, http://www.susandunn.cc. Susan works with adults of all ages to develop their emotional intelligence for applications to wellness and success in relationships and career. She offers individual coaching, Internet courses and ebooks. She also certifies EQ coaches in an innovative, no-residency program. Mailto:email@example.com for free ezine, and more information.
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