The New Normal: Reevaluating How Seniors Are Defined

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Senior Couple Taking Dog For Walk In Countryside

I look in the mirror

You see a wrinkled face

You see changes in me

But I am not old

I feel young inside

I love the same way

Like the same things

Sing the same songs

Why don’t they see the real me

A kid on a swing

Laughing and smiling

At the hope of a new day

I am not the man you see

I am needed in a different way

Not understanding your ways

Lost in a different time

But I am a child

Hidden in an old man’s body

I feel happy and free

To run freely again

As I did as a child!

The words of this poem I wrote illustrate how many seniors feel today.

While there are seniors who are suffering from chronic illnesses, many others are prospering and living full, active lives. There is a “new normal” when it comes to characterizing what it means to be a senior.

Now is the time to evaluate your definition and views of seniors by challenging your opinions about what it means to be 60-plus.

Your view of seniors may be influenced by your grandparents, aunts, uncles and maybe even your own parents. You may think about a time when many people over age 65 dressed and appeared older. It almost seemed that a metamorphosis occurred at a certain age that caused men to start wearing hats and suits all of the time and women to wear frumpy dresses.

A senior living before 1970 might be astounded if they saw how seniors live today.

They may never have imagined seniors exercising, wearing jeans, working after 65, traveling, having romantic relationships and learning new things. The term “senior” has been redefined and challenged by many who are now seniors and by the aging baby-boom generation.

There are different ways to define aging and what is considered the new normal.

Due to advances in medicine, many seniors are living longer and better lives. Your definition may include certain characteristics, such as mobility, overall functioning, the presence of chronic illnesses, vision and hearing loss and, most importantly, overall level of independence and quality of life.

Even with improved health care and longevity, today’s seniors still face challenges.

Many women survive their spouses and need to start a new life. It is not unusual for senior women to date, develop new relationships and remarry. Others may develop close relationships with other widows and become involved with new hobbies and activities.

At the same time, because of economic constraints and the need to make money last longer than previous generations, many seniors are forced to continue working, adjust their overall spending and move into smaller homes or apartments.

The new normal also includes seniors who live independently, work and/or volunteer and continue to make an active contribution to society. These seniors attribute their quality of life to a number of factors, including social interaction, personal growth and continued learning, which then contributes to maintaining cognitive abilities, good health and overall well-being, and having a purpose in their lives.

Social media and the use of technology have helped many seniors maintain close ties with family members who live throughout the country or world.

Eating well, exercising and remaining active are also important characteristics of the new normal seniors.

It will be exciting to see the continuing evolution of the new normal as more people enter their senior years. The days of seniors not being an active part of society is over.

With new senior role models in politics, entertainment, the working world and our personal lives, and with the continuing improvements in health care, the image of a senior will never be the same.

Marcy Shoemaker, Psy.D, is a psychologist at Abramson Center.

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