Blooming Perennials

A special issue of Time magazine is entitled “The Science of Living Longer”, and includes articles on aging well and “23 surprising ways to stay young”. We all know that there is no way that we will, in reality, “stay young”. The years continue to pass as long as we live. Closer perusal of the magazine indicated that “staying young” means fighting the physical and mental processes of aging using science and technology, personal healthy choices and attention to emotional and spiritual health.

Unfortunately, the words “stay young” reveal the underlying ageism that exists in our society. It infects all of us, including those of us who have actually reached ages that are OLD. But many of us do not want to acknowledge that we are journeying through later life. We are reluctant to reveal our actual age. We don’t want to be called “senior” because that will identify us with “those old people”.

There is nothing at all wrong with making healthy choices and taking time to look after ourselves as we age. Indeed, those choices will enable us to enjoy our older years and to continue to contribute to family and community life.

Laura Carstensen, director of the Stanford University Center on Longevity, and promoter of the term “perennials” to name older people, emphasized that although everyone wants to live longer, and science is helping that happen, the real challenge and opportunity is through cultural and societal changes in attitudes towards older people.

People over 65 are deeply influenced by our culture and our life experiences. We went to school, worked, developed relationships and perhaps raised a family, then retired. Many of us have 10, 15, 20, 30 and more years to live. Shall we spend it pursuing the societally expected “freedom 65” – a life of endless recreational opportunities and a relaxed carefree lifestyle?  Reality indicates that many older adults worry about running out of money, losing cognitive function or dying from a devastating disease. There can be more to growing older than either of these options.

Older adults are a growing resource – older people who have expertise, resources, imagination, energy and the motivation to try to make a difference in our world. We must change the societal expectations from fearing a crisis caused by an over-abundance of burdensome older adults to one about quality long life and new opportunities for older people and their communities.

SSM continues a Blooming Perennials campaign, featuring images and information about older adults whose lives are valuable to community, friends and family, no matter their age or the challenges of aging that they may face.

Saskatchewan Blooming Perennials are older adults who choose how and when they are able to engage and contribute within their families and communities. Various factors affect older adults’ choices – family and friends, time, types of opportunities, finances, health. Sometimes an older adult needs to take a break. Perennials aren’t guaranteed to blossom year after year, but given proper conditions, good soil and nutrients, they can bloom for decades.

The prairie wild crocus is a good symbol for perennials.

Crocuses are resilient. They are able to adjust to change and misfortune. Crocuses reappear on the prairie hillside even if in the previous year they were beaten down by ice and snow and freezing temperatures.

Blooming perennials keep their belief in something larger than themselves – a belief that spring comes again and again; and in the coming spring, something in the world might have changed for the better. Even more importantly, perennials may have helped bring that change about.