NOTE: Opinions expressed in this blog post are solely those of the authors, Olivia Aguiar and Monique Sekhon, and do not express the views or opinions of our employer.
We last left you in Part 1 with the question of what makes someone a Super Senior? Below, we answer that query and reflect on how speaking to the Super Seniors has changed our perceptions of ageing.
The Super Seniors we encountered are highly independent. They make a point to not only look after themselves but to also maintain their living space and even care for others. For example, we met husbands who are in their early-to-mid-90s taking care of their wives without any assistance. Furthermore, the Super Seniors don’t like being told what they can and cannot do. Their “I do what I want when I want” mindset has built them into people who are not afraid to ask questions and insist on answers. The most common theme that continually amazed us was how active and busy these seniors are! Between socializing with friends and family, attending exercise classes and going to the bridge club, there is little time for these seniors to feel bored. Their independence is inspiring as even their doctor's remark, “I want to be just like you when I’m older.”
The majority of the participants we interviewed understand and accept their current physical capacities. While some still report participating in the same hobbies and activities they did when they were younger (skiing, walking, bowling, biking, etc.), others have taken an innovative approach, adapting their interests to what they are now physically able to do. Rather than becoming frustrated by their restrictions, they have found new hobbies and methods to keep themselves busy. For example, Super Seniors who played team sports in their younger years have switched to lawn bowling or golfing, and a lot of them live close to golf courses for convenience. Many of our Super Seniors have also noted that being a caretaker for their partners takes away from their personal time and inhibits them from partaking in certain activities, but they always make time for themselves and do little things to keep busy and stay jovial.
Fighting the Stigma
People often assume that given the age of the Super Seniors, they need help with anything and everything. However, what we came to realize was that these individuals do not like to have things done for them if they are still capable of managing independently. One Super Senior shared that there are “no words such as can’t and won’t in my vocabulary.” Moreover, they get agitated by people who assume—based on their age—that they are no longer able to perform tasks as well as their younger counterparts. For example, one of the Super Seniors working for the film industry gets extremely frustrated by casting directors as they look at his resume and deny him an audition simply due to his “old age”. He explains that they completely ignore the fact that he is more able and active than actors half his age. Ironically, as many of the Super Seniors have reported, people often assume they are much younger than they actually are! Furthermore, while some of the Super Seniors don’t like to associate with individuals relative to their age due to the stigma or the fact that most of their age cohort has passed on, others spend more time with younger individuals because they are able to keep up with their physically and mentally challenging activities. For example, they will go to the gym or for walks with people their junior because they feel more stimulated and rejuvenated by them.
During an interview, a senior who is 97 years of age exclaimed, “I’m not looking forward to getting old!” Many of the people interviewed do not feel their age or what they’re expected to feel for their age. Some even went as far as saying they haven’t come to terms with the fact that they are aging. A Super Senior shared that she feels many seniors get so caught up with their age that they forget to just live and enjoy their life. She said "Don’t think of your age, never say I’m old. Let age go!” These individuals are positive to a fault, constantly looking on the bright side and they enjoy being alive. Moreover, the resilience present in these seniors has enabled them to keep moving on because as one Super Senior phrased it, “When you start to give up and don’t make the effort, that’s when things go downhill”. They live by life mottos such as "Until we can’t!” and “For the tenacious, no road is impossible.” They acknowledge the important contribution of genes to their longevity and healthy life, but also believe their approach to life and its challenges has built them to be the people they are. They tend to consider themselves as very determined and balanced people: they never let life get the best of them, take adversity in stride, and have learned how to move on when faced with hardship. They have also reflected that when they were younger, they were not as accommodating, but have always been the kind of people to stand up for themselves and support others.
The Authors Reflect: Changes in Our Perceptions of Aging
Prior to this study, I was a bit nervous about talking to seniors over the phone and thought that they wouldn’t like to have me invade their personal space by coming to their homes. I have also been worried about aging myself, thinking of it in a negative light. In talking to our Super Seniors, my mind has opened so much! They lived pretty different lives than we do now—TV barely existed yet and everyone still played outside—but they have adapted to all of the new technology so well and are very progressive (most of them use computers… one of the centenarians even had an iPad that she loves playing games on!). I also found that people tend to look at seniors as just an age group and make certain assumptions about them regarding their ability, tolerance and stereotypes. When you speak to these wonderful, open-minded, progressive people; listen to their stories and hear them share their wisdom, you feel a sense of connection and understanding. I have learned so much about myself and have been able to absorb a significant amount of life experience, which has changed the way I deal with many happenings in my own life. As my parents remarked, “Monique, this experience is priceless. Most people only have two grandparents… you have gained over fifty!”. I am honoured to have received blessings from many our participants and I hope to make all of my new grandparents proud :)
Before I started working for this study, the concept of aging scared me. I found myself associating getting older with a rapid decline in health. Fortunately, after getting to know the Super Seniors, my perception of aging has completely changed. I now see aging as an opportunity to accumulate memories and experiences, to enjoy and live out life, rather than worry about running out of one. They have shown me that with the right attitude and mindset, you can accomplish anything your heart desires. Furthermore, they have provided me with financial advice, life tips, quotes, mantras, and even marriage advice! My favourite quote (which the Super Senior barely got out because she was laughing so hard) was “Live fast, die young and be a good looking corpse!” Most importantly, they have taught me to never doubt my grandmother’s capacities and trust her decisions, even when she is lugging the wheelbarrow around the garden! This experience has been more enriching and more enlightening than I will ever be able to describe in words. I am forever grateful to have had this amazing opportunity. Thank you to the Super Seniors who graciously opened their doors and inspired us with their stories.
Click to read our “An Essential Guide to Healthy Aging” brochure. In this brochure, you will find snapshots of advice given to us from our Super Seniors and tips on how to live a long, healthy life!
The Healthy Aging Study (the Super-Seniors Study). (n.d.). Retrieved August 10, 2016, from http://www.bcgsc.ca/project/healthy-aging-study
Beyond the Blog
For more info about the Healthy Aging Study, the project overview on the BC Cancer Agency website