Being an editor for a publication about gerontological health care, not a day goes by that I don’t read something about aging. Cognitive impairment, mobility limitations, incontinence, falls, digestive/musculoskeletal problems…all sobering stuff. Sometimes I let it get to me, and I think, Holy crap, I am 31 years old. In this era of technological achievements, it is very possible that I could live two.more.cycles of my current lifetime. And while research is certainly advancing and more and more therapies, treatments, and interventions are being developed, aging is still aging, and even the most expensive procedures or drugs can’t stop the human body from…changing.

I struggled with the last word of that last sentence, changing. I originally wanted to type deteriorating, failing, or decaying, but those are all such negative words. For some older adults, even those whose bodies are gradually shutting down, a shift in perspective prevents them from falling into a pit of hopelessness. This mindset–resilience–“is an important concept to consider as the life span increases so [health care providers] can coach older adults in attaining life-course perspectives that help them maintain positive adaptation in the face of adversity” (p. 9).

Even the American Psychological Association, whose publication manual we use for editing, seems to follow this line of thinking: “Use emotionally neutral expressions,” the manual advises. “Objectionable expressions have excessive, negative overtones and suggest continued helplessness.”

I distinctly remember during the first week on the job my manager explaining to me how we are never to use the word suffer, as in, “suffering from bipolar disorder,” or victim, as in “stroke victim.” Think of all the people you know who have arthritis or hypothyroidism or ADD. Are they all “suffering”? When I hear that word, I think of someone huddled helplessly in a corner or shuffling dejectedly down the street.

However, plenty of people choose wisdom over despair. Although it doesn’t stop the skin from thinning or the muscles from atrophying, wisdom is just a different way of viewing the inevitable changes of life:

Despair is the unchallenged acceptance of negativity. Negative life events are viewed without a search for greater meaning. Losses are carried as heavy burdens from which one does not recover. Where wisdom calls for recovery from loss, despair is immobilized by the fear and anxiety triggered by loss. (p. 25)

I know it’s easy to write all this stuff when I’m still young. But after five years of editing articles that show both sides of the coin, I’m determined to be wise and resilient when I grow up. Here are some people I look to for inspiration:

Tao Porchon-Lynch

She’s a 90-something yoga master who also decided to add ballroom dancing to her CV…at age 87. A short and sweet interview with her is available here on the Kripalu Perspectives podcast page.

Age of Champions cast

Age of Champions – Trailer from Documentary Foundation on Vimeo.

I haven’t watched this documentary yet, but it features the stories of a 100-year-old tennis champion, 86-year-old pole vaulter, octogenarian swimmers, and team of basketball grandmothers all competing in the National Senior Games. This may be more interesting than the 2012 Summer Olympics!

Gotta Dance team

Photo credit: Gotta Dance & NBA Entertainment

I already gushed about this documentary here, but in short, the movie documents the inaugural season of the NETsationals dance team, a group of 13 seniors ages 59 to 83 who dance hip hip for the New Jersey Nets. The number on their jerseys represents their age. (I’m looking at you on the right there, Little Miss 81!)

5Rhythms Elders

My 5Rhythms instructor used to live in London and was part of the 5Rhythms Reach Out, which brings the practice to special populations such as older adults, children, and prison inmates. The video above is super sweet, and even if you don’t have time to watch the whole 7 minutes, at least just watch a few snippets. The average age of the adults in the video is 75, and their movement is a heartwarming indication of the expression and emotion that still lives inside of us, even when our body may not be able to jete across the room.

My 90-Year-Old Grandmother

No, not my grandmother, but Adam Forgie’s grandmother. She’s become an Internet sensation after her dance tribute to Whitney Houston went viral. According to Adam, grandma is nearly blind from macular degeneration, partially deaf, and has a hip replacement. But she still “wanna dance with some somebody.” And with such soul, too!

If it were up to me, I’d be a lifelong Peter Pan and never grow up, but because I’m not a cartoon character, the least I can be is as spirited as these folks above.

Do you have anyone you’d add to this list of resilient older adults?