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The Art of Aging Gracefully

Experts say the keys to successful aging include accepting changes and finding meaningful activities.

Avoiding Stereotypes continued...

Almost a decade ago, Cooper started the Red Hat Society to celebrate women 50 and over. Red Hat now boasts 40,000 chapters in the U.S. and abroad. Most members wear red hats and purple dresses to the group's social outings.   

But Cooper admits that when she was younger, she harbored prejudice against older people. "When I would meet people, I'd think, "She probably wouldn't be a potential friend for me because she's 20 years older -- just these things where we make a split-second judgment on appearance."

Having met thousands of older women through the Red Hat Society, she has replaced the stereotypical thinking with a positive view of aging gracefully. "First impression doesn't tell you a thing. Some of these people have had incredible lives and careers and still have a great sense of humor and a lot of intellect, and the culture will write them off: 'Oh, she's an old lady and she's overweight.'"

"OK, world, here we are: 'old women,'" Cooper says defiantly. "We're about gathering women together as they get older and having that companionship and friendship that makes it less scary for women in this culture. We're still cool."

Finding Meaningful Activities

Continue to find meaning later in life.

"Retirement has always been a time when we see people withdraw from their roles," says Pauline Abbott, EdD, director of gerontology at the Institute of Gerontology, California State University, Fullerton. During this risky time, some older people succumb to depression and a sense of meaninglessness.

"Part of the challenge of aging gracefully is that you have to continue to find things that are important to you," Frazier says.

That can include travel, spiritual pursuits, hobbies, new social groups, lifelong learning, or recapturing time with family if one lacked the chance during the career years, experts say.

Plan for purposeful activities before you retire, Abbott says. "It should be a transition. It shouldn't be, 'Stop work one day and fall off a cliff.' It's time to follow where your passions lie."

Without meaningful goals, "You get into this whole attitude of 'Oh, my gosh, this woes me. My memory's going, I'm slow, all I do is go to wakes and funerals,'" Frazier says. "If you don't have important things out in front of you, there's enough about the aging process that is not positive and you can get caught up in what you don't like about it."

Reviewed on June 12, 2007

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