By Tia McCurdy

If you don’t have an elder in your life, it’s easy not to pay attention to this segment of the population. My Mom is a focus in my life but — as an aging baby boomer — I’m also paying very close attention to this business of aging, looking down the road and wondering what life will be like.

I have the pleasure of being around seniors in my work, and what’s clear to me is that the older I get the younger old looks. I can clearly see that I have much to learn about growing older with humor, grace and a robust portion of gratitude.

You’ve heard the expressions “attitude of gratitude” or “choosing to be happy” or even Mark Twain’s quote, “Age is an issue of mind over matter … if you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.”

All those concepts are true, but how do we, the aging baby boomers, get there from here?

It would be wonderful if, by osmosis, we could soak up the positive energy, insights and shining examples of those who are aging well.

My focus is not how good they look but how healthy they are in their thoughts and attitudes.

I’ve had the pleasure of meeting many seniors who have been through unbelievable hardships, but who choose not to look back or dwell on those past hurts. Rather, they choose to focus on the now, embracing each day with enthusiasm and abiding faith. They have dynamic lives, full of volunteering, sharing and learning.

I interviewed a woman who had lost all but one of her five children, widowed twice and she’d had numerous serious health challenges. You’d never know it talking with her.

This isn’t to say that she didn’t have dark and painful days, but rather that — through it all — she was able to maintain her resilient and steadfast determination to make the best of what life had handed her.

Clearly, there are sad and challenging times associated with aging. On the other end of the spectrum, many of the myths about aging are slowly being exposed, both through scientific evidence and through feedback from seniors.

Today, many are coming to realize the tremendous potential for creative aging that’s possible whether we’re running marathons or confined to a wheelchair.

The negative illness model of aging is being replaced with one that’s more positive. It’s a model that suggests wellness can be achieved throughout life, despite the presence of chronic conditions and other problems prevalent in later years.

“Well” has been defined as “a state of being, an attitude” more than the absence of illness.

By 2010, more than 76 million baby boomers will approach the age of 65. That gives us valuable time to spend with our seniors, who are overflowing with insights, experiences and advice. It’s time for us to learn from them and decide how we want our “senior years” to be.
Tia McCurdy is a community education specialist in Senior Services at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston.

The Your Health column is written by health and medical experts at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. The column focuses on topical health issues that we believe are of interest to your readers. It is e-mailed every Tuesday. If you have any questions about the column, or would like to suggest topics, please contact John Koloen, media relations specialist, at (409) 772-8790 or email jskoloen@utmb.edu.