Recently two national publications (Better Homes & Gardens, and Costco Connection) carried articles outlining strategies to help seniors "live in their own homes for life". They were both good articles on the benefits of universal design, but rather than focusing on functional impairments regardless of age they were heavy on references to "golden years, senior access, barriers to seniors, senior friendly, etc.". So under the guise of "helpful information to remain independent" was the insidious message that functional impairment is an unavoidable consequence of normal aging.
I was disturbed by these articles but absolutely stunned by the prevelance of this attitude even among my own friends. While talking about home design with a group of people (many runners, bikers, etc.) in their 40’s I heard them say things like "when I get old and can’t climb stairs", and listened as they expounding the wisdom of buying one level homes "when they get old". I’m all for universal design but any one of us could get hit by a bus tomorrow and not be able to climb stairs. So a one level house should be equally important at any age. Believing in and planning for decline as we age is a sure recipe for achieving decline.
Research clearly proves only a very small degree of functional loss results from normal aging. The significant decline associated with aging is preventable, resulting largely from inactivity and other lifestyle choices. High levels of physical function can be retained throughout the full lifespan. Check out the November 2005 issue of National Geographic to see the 100 year old water skier and others breaking the mold, and familiarize yourself with what tens of thousands of mature adults are accomplishing at the Senior Olympics every year.
Most of all, train yourself to look for these underlying messages and consciously choose to reject them. Live the life you choose rather than the negative story that has been written for you about aging.