Two older gentlemen were just coming off the 18th hole at the golf course as I and my playing partners walked to the clubhouse before beginning our round. The one closest to us shared that his playing partner, although a little older than him, had won the round – and, oh, by the way, his playing partner was 95 years old.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has established Saturday, April 7, 2012 as World Health Day. The theme this year is: “Good health adds life to years”.
A study¹ published in The American Journal of Public Health in 1997 found that frequent religious attendance reduced mortality (adds years to life).
But the theme here is not to add years to life, but to add life to years. One very obvious and central way to add life to years (as well as to add years to life) is to achieve better health. But adding life to years involves much more than that.
“Numerous determinants of healthy and active ageing lie beyond the health system“² according to Dr. Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organization.
One important determinant boils down to a change of thought (individually and collectively). And specifically, to drop stereotypes that portray older people as a burden and instead to seek opportunities for them to contribute.
The WHO’s Global Brief for World Health Day 2012² (page 24) points out that “Viewing older people as out of touch stops us thinking of strategies that might better draw on their experience and knowledge.” “But taking active steps to break down these negative beliefs will not only benefit older people, it will reduce the costs of population ageing. It will also help us to build sustainable, cohesive, equitable and secure societies – the sort of society which we may all want to be part of.”
Negative stereotypes regarding our older members of society abound. According to the WHO³ these include: (1) older people are “past their sell-by date”, (2) older people are helpless, (3) older people will eventually become senile, (4) older women have less value than younger women, and (5) older people don’t deserve health care.
“Even Shakespeare’s poetry pictures age as infancy, as helplessness and decadence, instead of assigning to man the everlasting grandeur and immortality of development, power, and prestige.” writes Mary Baker Eddy, Founder of Christian Science, in Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures (pg. 244).
Those two golfers in their 90’s sure showed me that stereotypes about old age could be, and should be, dropped from thought.
Another determinant is spirituality. Spirituality is sometimes defined as having a feeling of connection – a connection to the divine or a connection to the world around us. The WHO’s Global Brief² (page 16) points out that age-related disabilities like hearing-loss can result in reduced communication and thus lead to social isolation.
My grandmother struggled with partial hearing-loss in her later years. She was a very Christian woman, was sharp mentally and overall experienced good health, living in her own two-story home until her passing at the age of 101. Even in her 90’s she continued to participate in church activities, serving her community. I know that she consistently prayed every day, affirming her close connection to God and His love for her. And she prayed daily for the health and welfare of mankind.
As a practicing Christian Scientist, this spiritual activity was very important to her, and I think it gave her a greater sense of purpose, and fulfillment as well. She’s a great example to me of adding life to years. She often shared her “experience and knowledge” with me, which I appreciate more and more as time goes on.
Population aging is a global phenomenon. Average age increases as countries develop. Countries are aging faster today than in the past, and low-income and middle-income countries are aging the fastest.
According to the WHO³, within the next five years, for the first time in human history, the number of adults aged 65 and over will outnumber children under the age of 5 and by 2050 they will outnumber children under the age of 14.
Whether we’re viewing others as older or being viewed as older, a more spiritual view free of negative stereotypes regarding age will benefit all of us and add life to years!
Here’s a must-see WHO video about World Health Day 2012 (if it won’t play, click here.)