Reject Coping – Embrace Overcoming

I just read the New York Times article about Bracing for Falls in an Aging Nation, published  November 2nd.   I cringe at the appalling ageist assumptions and paternalistic attitudes, but provide the link because it illustrates why we need a dramatic change in thinking towards aging and disability. We’ve gotten really good at celebrating “successful agers” who are downhill skiing at 90, but at some point we need to pull the thread of positive aging through all ages and all levels of functional ability.

Why is it that young people with disabilities are given tools, resources, and encouragement to overcome challenges and live life fully in spite of them, and elders are given tools to cope with challenges? The equivalent of “here’s your walker, and what you’re capable of now – good luck with that.” There’s a profound difference between the mindset of overcoming versus coping
– resulting in profoundly different outcomes.

It’s absolutely proven that loss of function can be prevented and even reversed with resistance training and other exercise interventions, but many people don’t take advantage of these proven programs. The article chalks it up to “denial of decline”.  I believe it’s something very different. 
Environments created to help elders with functional challenges often actively diminish rather than support resilience. And resilience is absolutely necessary to face challenges.

I’ve spent my career promoting lifelong vitality and have learned that great programs and equipment don’t motivate action until people, of any age, first believe in their ability to change their circumstances. They also have to be surrounded by others who focus on possibilities not disabilities. 

Start by taking age out of the equation -loss of leg function poses the same problems for a 20 year old and an 80 year old. View challenges through a lens of resilience. Environments must be co-created with elders that support self-efficacy, self-esteem, optimism, purpose, mastery and control – the building blocks of resilience. Embrace adaptive strategies to live fully in spite of challenges rather than coping strategies that create a smaller world.

Rejecting stereotypes and believing in possibilities will move us away from the – when in danger or in doubt, run in circles scream and shout approach to health challenges, and towards environments where people feel competent and compelled to live fully in spite of challenges.

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