Coping with change can be challenging at any age, but becomes particularly so as you get older. Experiencing the “ground shifting underneath your feet” can be extremely unsettling, particularly if the change is a less than desirable one. For human beings, patterns are reassuring, and we can become very comfortable with our routines. When these routines are threated or forcibly removed from us, we very quickly become uncomfortable and can find these situations challenging.
Unfortunately, change is an inevitable part of life, and it’s something we need to learn how to deal with. Most people don’t like change, as it can be scary, difficult and sometimes expensive. However, change is necessary if you want to be able to adapt to your future. It isn’t easy but it’s essential.
Why does change get harder as we get older?
Change becomes particularly difficult the older we get. This is partly due to the fact that ageing inevitably causes changes, some of which are less than desirable. Some of the changes can definitely be positive (think more free time after you retire, the enjoyment of grandchildren, and a healthier perspective on life), but some changes may not be so agreeable. While not always the case, ageing can be the cause of declining physical and mental health, disability, loss of loved ones and changes to environment and living conditions. The challenge for older people is the number of changes that start to occur as you age – it can feel overwhelming, sad and frightening.
Our attitude to change depends very much on whether we initiated the change or whether it was thrust upon us by circumstances outside our control. If you elected to make the change, your attitude is optimistic and positive, and you look forward to the experience. If you didn’t choose the change, however, your reaction is going to be very different. Obviously, dealing with retiring to the coast is going to be a lot different to dealing with a cancer diagnosis. And at older ages, many of our major life decisions have already been made, so the changes that occur tend to be ones not of our choosing.
As well, research has shown that older people become much more set in their ways than younger ones, and are less open to new experiences. This pattern of personality development, while a generalisation, tends to hold true across cultures.
However, this pattern is more an issue of will than ability to change. There’s no reason why older people can’t adapt to change and demonstrate neuroplasticity (the brain’s ability to change both functionally and structurally). Neuroplasticity is a lifelong process, especially if you set up a positive environment for change to occur. The problem lies in the fact that many people don’t want to change.
How can older people manage change better?
Change is inevitable, but the stress that it causes is not. Here are some useful strategies to help you manage change better as you age.
Change the way you look at things
There’s no denying that everyone is going to get older, so the best way of coping with the changes wrought by ageing is by changing our attitude.
Many people are reactive to change, rather than proactive, because the change is not of their choosing and it causes disruption.
For instance, many people wait until they have a health scare, or their health and abilities degenerate significantly before starting to think about aged care or help. Waiting until you need the change is too late. You need to prepare for the change earlier and become the innovator of the change – that way it’s not as disruptive as it might have been. It’s far better to make the change happen and be a big part of it (decide what you want and how it’s going to happen) than merely reacting to a situation and facing limited choices.
The only realistic way to cope with change is to take an active part in it. You need to have the foresight to see the change coming, and then take action to control it as much as possible. It helps to have (or develop) a willingness to reassess routines and habits, and adapt and adjust them as necessary.
Having self-belief also helps. Take a mental journey through your memories and realise that you’ve been able to overcome all the changes you’ve encountered in the past – and you’ll continue to be able to do so. Believing that you have the ability to cope with whatever life throws at you (and being able to prove it to yourself by examining past events) will help you cope. You are stronger and more resilient than you realise.
Prepare for the change
Once you know that a change is inevitable, start to prepare as thoroughly as possible. Make lists, outlines, plans, enlist some help – whatever you need to help you feel more in control of the process and able to manage it. Preparing early will give you peace of mind and reassurance that you can deal with the changes. Take things one step at a time, and you’ll no doubt find that you’re not powerless and the change is manageable.
Click here to discover why you should seek advice when planning for your future care.
Process your feelings
Many of the changes associated with ageing can bring about feelings of grief, loss and anger. Don’t just sweep these emotions under the carpet however, as this can lead to depression and resentment. Find some healthy ways to process these very real emotions, such as talking it over with someone, journaling or exercise.
Accept the things you can’t change
There are certain things in life that are beyond your control – and stressing and worrying about them is not going to help. Accept the things you can’t change, and focus on what you can control, such as your attitude, or the choices you can make.
Look for the silver lining
If you look hard enough, there’s usually a silver lining to any change, no matter how undesirable it may seem. Look for and focus on any positives you can find, as well as opportunities for personal growth. There’s always something you can be grateful for, and it helps to never take these things for granted.
Adopt healthy living practices
If the thought of the negative changes that might accompany ageing bothers you, then do something about it before they occur. Preventative measures such as eating healthily, exercising and managing stress can help reduce the risk of chronic disease as you age. If you don’t want to deal with the changes brought about by disease, then try and prevent these diseases from happening in the first place.
Do something new every day
Doing something new every day can help your brain adapt to changes and not become calcified from ageing. Changing your routine often can generate new ideas and perspectives on familiar things, and help prevent you becoming too set in your ways. It can be as simple as driving a different route than your usual way, trying a new flavour or food, even making your coffee a different way. If you regularly adopt a practice of trying new things throughout your life, you’ll find it much easier to adapt to changes down the track.
Engage with other people
Engagement with people will make our lives easier and happier, particularly as we get older and have to adapt to the losses of people we are close to. Make interaction and engagement with others a practice throughout your life. That way you’ll have a network of support to help prevent loneliness and isolation as you get older, as well as being more open to the views and opinions of others.
Click here to discover how seniors can extend their lives by staying connected.
Having a healthy attitude to changes and challenges will be of enormous help when such things enter your life. There are many things you can do to keep a sense of perspective in the face of change, and help you find meaning and joy in life, no matter what’s going on.