A Young Adult's View of Aging and Death
By Serena Lipton for Next Avenue
While I recognize that, at age 25, I am still very early in the process, successful aging is a concept which I have grown to enjoy learning and studying.
It is often difficult for someone my age to openly discuss aging, but I believe that increasing dialogue and creating comfort around this topic for all ages is vitally important in shifting society's view.
What I have learned to date through work in the senior living industry is that research and personal observations can be broken down into two key points: how you view yourself, and how you find your purpose.
Don't Let the Numbers Define You
In some cases, the way in which we view ourselves mentally may even impact our physical being; this is the idea of subjective age. Subjective aging allows everyone to decide for themselves just how young or old they feel without regard to chronological age.
We all have that friend or family member who personifies a version of themselves either much younger or much older than they currently are. A recent study in Ageing and Society showed that those who have a subjective age significantly younger than their chronological age are typically in better physical health than those who have subjective ages in alignment with, or higher than, their chronological age.
The Importance of Purpose
Purpose holds a different meaning for everyone, and that is the beauty of it. I recently learned that people who live their lives without a true sense of purpose are more likely to suffer from Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia later in life. While this might frighten many, I find it to be inspiring.
Almost every one of us at some point in our lives will experience pressure to find our purpose. For some, this pressure may continue to accompany us as we age, and we may spend the first half or even first three quarters of our lives making a series of choices and decisions that will hopefully lead us to that answer with time.
Each person's purpose is highly unique. Some may have a purpose so great that the whole world is aware of it, while others may happily keep their journey or purpose entirely to themselves.
Regardless of the path we choose to take, maintaining a strong sense of purpose teaches us how to live each day to the fullest at every stage of life.
I believe that our purpose is equally as important if we find it at age 15 and spend our lives fulfilling it, or at age 95 and spend the rest of our lives in search of it. In either case, we are refusing to let ourselves settle, knowing that there is always a greater reason behind our existence.
Incorporating Purpose Into Senior Living
I recently heard the following questions raised at a senior living industry conference: "Are you in the business of senior housing? Or are you in the business of creating environments and services that help people thrive?"
As human beings, we crave social interaction and mental and emotional stimulation equally during all phases of life. The senior living industry is not just about the idea of housing built with a common purpose in mind. Rather, it represents an array of benefits derived from bringing together individuals in a similar stage of life, providing them with various means of engagement, and allowing them to realize a deeper sense of purpose going forward.
How can we ignite a sense of purpose within ourselves? More importantly, how can we help others to realize theirs?
We can find purpose and meaning in our lives through various forms of mental and social expansion, such as yoga and meditation, art classes and strong commitments to others. Many senior living communities are working hard to restructure their operations to incorporate these types of activities into their residents' lives every day.
Focusing on incorporating wellness into all areas of life will allow residents to realize and maintain a strong sense of purpose, ultimately resulting in greater longevity. Essentially, we are training ourselves to maintain a zest or passion for life at every age.
From a young age, I have wholly accepted the process of living, aging, and passing on. The idea that death is both eventual and inevitable has never been something I feared but, rather, it is an idea that serves as a reminder that there is a final bell in the game of life.
Even during moments and days of doubt, it never seems to be the bell itself that I fear, but instead the fear of not accomplishing "enough" (whatever that means). Everything we do between now and that final bell matters.
Many seem to believe that choosing a path that focuses on their journey during the last quarter of the game somehow equates to skipping the first three. From my experience, this could not be further from the truth. The reality is that to give greater attention to that final quarter allows us to live in complete alignment with our best and most authentic self during those first three.
There is only one guarantee: whether our time on earth is 40 years or 120, we will all participate in this game. We will live, we will age, and we will pass on.
So why would we choose to reject the clarity of the only guarantee we've been given? If we can make peace with this guarantee, and with our final quarter, the rest of life simply becomes focused on pure enjoyment of the game.
Serena Lipton is an Associate with Artemis Real Estate Partners’ healthcare business, responsible for supporting asset management and acquisitions activities across the healthcare platform with a focus on seniors housing. She formerly served as an Analyst within the seniors housing and healthcare specialty practices at both CBRE and JLL. Her primary areas of focus include market research and financial analysis of active adult, independent living, assisted living, memory care, and nursing care properties across the United States.