By Cathy Bollinger, Managing Director of Embracing Aging, York County Community Foundation
“My uncle is 83 and still drives.”
“My grandma is 90 and still goes out dancing.”
“My step-father is approaching 74 and still runs a mile each day.”
Do you see anything wrong with the language above? It’s the word “still.” For many of us, using “still” this way in a sentence is automatic. We don’t even think about it. It’s like when you pass someone you know on the street and robotically say “Hi, how are you” as you continue to walk by without listening for their response.
Although meant as a compliment, the word “still” suggests seniors have worth only to the degree in which their actions resemble those of younger people.
Dr. Bill Thomas, an author and geriatrician who is helping the world redefine aging, says the word “still” describes the subculture of Realists. He came to York at the invitation of York County Community Foundation’s Embracing Aging initiative in May 2016. Embracing Aging is an initiative working to make York County a great place to age by expanding age-inclusive thinking and reducing barriers to aging well.
Dr. Thomas thinks Baby Boomers fall into one of three categories: 1) Denialists, who loudly reject changes that come with age; 2) Realists, who view aging as bad and actively resist aging changes; and 3) Enthusiasts, who find aging interesting and they can’t wait to explore it.
He believes “still” fits Realists because they cannot see the value of life beyond adulthood, which traps them in a desperate and ultimately doomed effort to continue living as they did when they were younger. Realists think older people are worthy only for what they offer, which is wrong.
At age 52, I cannot run as quickly as I did at 15, nor perform backbends and cartwheels across the grass as I did at age 8. My worth isn’t measured on what I can “still” or can’t do; I believe people of all ages are valuable no matter what. But this is especially true for older adults, as they have life lessons and experiences that are far more important than abilities. Someone once asked me about people who are no longer able to communicate due to advanced diseases, such as Alzheimer’s. I echo Dr. Thomas’s thoughts on this. These people have the greatest value because they teach the rest of us about compassion.
When should we stop using the word “still?” Every time it’s used to diminish older adults.
To learn more about York County Community Foundation’s Embracing Aging visit www.embracingaging.org.