We all know lots of people. I bet you have over a thousand email contacts. I bet there are hundreds of people whom you know by name or by face. We automatically form beliefs about the world in general, about all people, based on what we personally see or hear happening in the specific individual lives of people we know. We don’t question our generalizations. But, often, our experiences and observations are more the exception than the rule, so our beliefs about “typical” are just wrong. The antidote to this is scientific research, that is, research that studies large numbers of people, in groupings that are carefully selected to reflect the whole population, and measured with unbiased measurement methods. This is what psychology provides us. There are many myths about later life, most of them unpleasant. The truth, however, is much more positive.
For example, retirement is NOT bad for your health! In the past, various studies of the effects of retirement on health had shown positive effects, negative effects, or no effects. The very best study is the GAZEL occupational cohort study, published in 2010. This longitudinal study in France enrolled 20,624 employees (73% men) initially aged 35-50 y.o., and followed their health status annually for 15 years. The results show clearly that the prevalence of lung disease, diabetes, heart disease, and stroke, are all completely unaffected by retirement. In contrast, mental fatigue, physical fatigue, and depression all improved on average with retirement.
In fact, overall, psychological research has shown absolutely that NORMAL AGING is SUCCESSFUL AGING. Despite the stereotypes, the jokes, and the fears, older adults are generally content, capable and connected. They are content in that they generally complete their transitions completely, and report good morale and emotional wellbeing, despite higher rates of medical difficulties. They are capable in that their intellectual abilities are only slightly below that of people in their fifties. They are connected in that the vast majority of them are in frequent contact with at least one close relative on a frequent basis. The improved life expectancy of babies in the 20th century has created far more years of shared adulthood between today’s elderly and their adult children.
Of course, the averages provide only a shred of guidance for what we can expect as individuals. There are always those unusually lucky and unlucky people whose experience is anything but typical. Each of us must craft our own strategy for success in life, all the way to the end. If I can help you do this, just let me know.
“My passion is ensuring that every adult is mentally ready to succeed in all transitions that comprise the adult years. The meaning in my life comes from helping my patients see themselves, their situation, their future, and the entire world with new eyes and a newly courageous attitude.