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Living in your seventies: How to revive your best life

Living in your seventies: How to revive your best life

Andrew Fuller is a clinical psychologist, author and Fellow of the Department of Psychiatry and the Department of Learning and Educational Development at the University of Melbourne. Here now, in an excerpt from his book Your Best Life At Any Age (Bad Apple Press, 2019), he discusses how people aged 71 to 77 could navigate their lives.

Most people don’t fear being old when they finally get there. They do fear being bored, lonely or being treated as invisible, silly or confused. Loneliness can stem from the lack of close intimate relationships or social networks.

The sense of indignity that can affront people at this age is life robbing. If you are surrounded by people who act as if you are mentally deficient or unable to complete rudimentary tasks it can cause feelings of deep hurt, rage and embarrassment. Extreme embarrassment can kill you years before your time.

There is a lot of bunkum written about this time of life. Despite the prevailing myth that these years are accompanied by fragility and senility, only 5 per cent of people over sixty-five are in nursing homes and less than 10 per cent will ever be. Only 5 per cent of people over sixty-five suffer from dementia.

Psychiatrist Gordon Livingstone wisely says that old age is not for sissies. It’s not, but it’s also not a time to turn into a dodo. Author and physician Oliver Wendall Holmes, at the age of eighty–four, upon seeing a beautiful woman said, ‘Oh to be seventy again!’ People are just as smart, switched on and shrewd as ever but the world seems to be intent on labelling them as incapable and old. Ageing does not have to mean growing old.

This is the time of life to insist on being in the world; being part of your community and spending time with people that you love. It is easy to feel that you should really pack yourself off somewhere – to a home, to a gated community (or penitentiary for the aged) or to a highly desirable but almost inevitably lonely location.

People may want to make arrangements and plans for you. Tell them decidedly to go and get stuffed. There is a dignity in controlling your own destiny.

Others want to be helpful. Let them help but don’t let them control what happens to you.

It is a time when the body does not work as it once did. Twinges turn into aches, aches turn into pain, power turns to frailty. Sleep can prove elusive. You may be up roaming in the middle of night and then unable to keep your eyes open after lunch. Names can fail to arrive on your lips. Clarity of purpose can become wayward.

This phase of life is unknown territory. Most of your ancestors did not achieve this age. For most of history people couldn’t dream of living into their seventies.

Across history the average life span has varied dramatically. In classical Greece and Rome it was twenty-eight years, in medieval Britain it was thirty-three years, by the end of the 19th century in Western Europe it was thirty-seven. Historically speaking, you are doing very well.

There has been a 50 per cent increase in life expectancy since 1900, especially for women. Despite this, many people use this additional time waiting and ailing and complaining. It is an important time of life to question the contemporary view of ageing, and ask how are you going to use this additional lifetime. Will you embrace life or just spend more time being old?

I was delighted to discover a 1933 issue of Time magazine that contained an interview with Li-Chang Yuen, a man who purportedly lived to the age of 256. For those of you interested in attaining this fine age, I include Li-Chang Yuen’s four-step formula for living for your consideration:

  1. Keep a quiet heart.
  2. Walk sprightly like a pigeon.
  3. Sit like a tortoise.
  4. Sleep like a dog.