Still Going Strong Aging: Staying Busy Keeps Seniors Feeling Young

Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), July 31, 2017 | Go to article overview

Still Going Strong Aging: Staying Busy Keeps Seniors Feeling Young


Byline: Sharon Jayson Kaiser Health News

Wilhelmina Delco learned to swim at 80.

Harold Berman is in his 67th year practicing law.

Mildred Walston spent 76 years on the job at a candy company.

And brothers Joe and Warren Barger are finding new spots in their homes for the gold medals they've just earned in track-and-field events at the National Senior Games.

These octogenarians and nonagenarians may not be widely known outside their local communities, but just as with their more famous peers -- think Carl Reiner, Betty White, Dr. Ruth (Westheimer) and Tony Bennett -- the thread that binds them is not the year on their birth certificate but the way they live.

"Age shouldn't be a reason to slow down," said Joe Barger, 91, of Austin.

It never hurts to have longevity in your genes and few chronic health problems, but mindset plays a role in how people age, experts say. Some older people have been termed "super-agers" for mental acuity despite their years; for them, the typical age-related decline in brain volume is much slower.

For elders who aren't among these elite agers, staying vital may be about more than physical or mental agility. Researchers find that society's focus on youth culture and negative stereotypes about aging prompt memory loss and stress.

But older adults who want to dispel notions of becoming feeble have growing ranks to emulate.

Joe Barger and brother Warren, 95, of Chattanooga, Tennessee, just wrapped up two weeks of competition in Birmingham, Alabama, where Warren earned five gold medals and set a new national high-jump record in his 95-99 age bracket. In badminton, where Warren played singles, doubles and mixed doubles, he was placed in the 85-89 bracket because there weren't competitors in his age group.

"My secret of life is to wake up every morning with something to do," Warren said. "Some people I feel are old because they allow themselves to get old. When people ask me how I'm able to do what I can do, I say I never did quit trying."

A former insurance salesman and church music director, Warren plays golf and

pickleball once a week and badminton twice a week. He mows his lawn, volunteers weekly at his church and sings in the senior choir.

Stereotyping seniors

In a study published last year, David Weiss, an assistant professor of sociomedical sciences and psychology at the Columbia Aging Center at Columbia University in New York, found that those who don't accept the inevitability of aging can "counteract the detrimental and self-fulfilling consequences of negative age stereotypes."

"My research looks at why no one wants to be old," Weiss said.

"They want to set themselves apart from this negatively viewed age group. They just want to distance themselves from stereotypes: 'I'm not like the stereotype. I'm different,'" he said. "Adults who believe age is just a number showed better memory performance, but adults who believed aging is set in stone and fixed had a decrease in memory performance and a stronger stress reaction."

Social psychologist Becca Levy of the Yale School of Public Health in New Haven, Conn., said her studies found an increase in negative age stereotypes over the past two centuries.

"Part of it is due to media and marketing," she said. "An ageist culture produces many more negative stereotypes."

Such notions have an impact. Research published this year by Sarah Barber, an assistant professor of psychology at San Francisco State University, found that people blamed routine forgetfulness on their age -- as in saying they had a "senior moment" -- because popular wisdom reinforces stereotypes of age-related memory decline. …

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