By Don Friedman
Getting older can certainly be a challenging experience with physical limitations, losses, and changes in accustomed routines. Added to this can be a fear of the unknown, loneliness, and a sense of isolation. These issues can be particularly difficult for LGBT older adults who live by themselves and are not as active physically as they once were.
But aging also offers many opportunities for continued evolution and growth. It provides the opportunity to gain new perspectives and develop new sources of meaning and purpose. In fact, there can be great joy as we age if there is a willingness to be open to our life experiences, our inner strengths and talents, and to our continued potential.
Focusing on our potential instead of only thinking of our deficits can greatly change our experience of growing older. We can embrace the aging process with joy and acceptance and a willingness to continue blossoming despite any limitations and difficulties.
One of these joys of aging is being able to share the wisdom we have acquired from years of interacting with others and the world around us. Sharing that wisdom with others as an elder can be very rewarding, particularly when mentoring younger people. We may also find new strengths that we had no time to develop previously because of work and/or family obligations. It can be very satisfying to develop and nourish new talents or interests.
For those of us looking to be more engaged with others, we can explore volunteer opportunities, involvement with community groups, and getting involved in activism. Past work experience and outside interests can be very valuable to others. Pursuing new hobbies can likewise be very fulfilling. Taking courses or engaging in other intellectual activities or group discussions around shared interests can also be satisfying and lead to connection with others. There is something positive about continuing to learn and amass wisdom.
Another approach to positive aging involves finding contentment in just “being” and not necessarily constantly “doing.” Cultivating mindfulness and just being present in the moment is a wonderful practice that fosters awareness of both our surroundings and also ourselves. We can be so driven by productivity that we don’t always stop to enjoy our own company. Being alone is not the same as loneliness.
Reflection on our past, present, and future can help us gain more depth and find meaning and purpose in our life. This requires self-reflection and awareness. Aging gives us a chance to consider what our lives have meant and still mean to us, others, and the world we live in.
It is essential to have a purpose in our lives as we age. This can add to our sense of meaning and motivate us to get out of bed in the morning. It doesn’t have to be some huge life-altering purpose; the simplest one can be just as powerful.
Finally, learning to be resilient is an essential part of aging. Resilience is the ability to bounce back after confronting challenges, so that one becomes stronger and wiser and can effectively meet other difficult issues as they arise. Resilience, while aging, allows us to continue growing and to discover inner strengths.
It is never too late to welcome change into our lives. However, it does require that we play an active role in embracing the possibilities that the aging process can provide. The LGBT Elder Initiative will be hosting “Resilient Aging: Staying Positive and Living with Purpose” on Saturday, June 1st from 10:30 – 1:00 at the Friends Center, 1501 Cherry St. The program will focus on ways for LGBT older adults to pursue new passions, embrace new possibilities, and find new meaning in life. An expert in the field and a community panel will present helpful ideas and foster an interactive discussion to encourage your own positive approach to the aging process. To register, contact the LGBT Elder Initiative at 215-720-9415 or firstname.lastname@example.org. All are welcome to attend.
Don Friedman, M.D. is a retired rheumatologist. He is an adjunct faculty member at Sidney Kimmel Medical College where his interests are compassion and empathy in medicine, doctor-patient communication, and physician wellness. Don volunteers with the LGBT Elder Initiative helping to plan programming on aging and emotional wellness.