Currently serving as an Associate Professor and the Director of the Center for Aging, Health and Humanities at George Washington University, Melissa Batchelor, RN, PhD has dedicated her career to researching age-related issues, such as dementia and Alzheimer’s, and how we can provide better care for those battling these diseases as a society and a family.
In her return to the podcast, Melissa offers her insights on personal aging, how we can get the most out of our later years, and early signs of Alzheimer’s to look for with our loved ones. She also shares fascinating information on how our lifestyle and mental headspace can alter how we age, and the negative effects that ageist messages found in consumer products such as greeting cards can have on our mental health.
Melissa Batchelor, an expert in aging, shares the concept of “bold aging,” inspired by the recent feature on ABC about the Golden Bachelor. They explore the impact of this show on challenging ageism and shifting perspectives on romance in later stages of life. The show raises awareness that romantic lives don’t expire at 50 or even 70. Melissa emphasizes that while aging is often associated with decline, it’s not the norm—many people age healthily and vibrantly.
Together, Melissa and Christina debunk the myth that vitality diminishes with time. Their discussion brings to light the importance of recognizing that aging isn’t synonymous with limitations, especially in areas like dating.
The Impact of Mindset on the Aging Process
Revisiting the idea that all older adults are similar, Melissa underscores the diversity among individuals in their 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, and beyond. Just as 20-year-olds vary widely in personalities and life experiences, the same spectrum applies to older age groups.
The choices we make influence our aging journey significantly. Surprisingly, negative beliefs about aging can reduce life expectancy by an average of seven and a half years! It’s vital to avoid assuming that every ache or discomfort is an inevitable result of aging—just because one knee aches doesn’t mean the other knee of the same age should hurt as well.
Melissa stresses that certain issues often associated with aging aren’t necessarily a standard part of getting older. Lifestyle choices play a substantial role in these issues, often more so than simply the aging process itself.
No More Black Balloons
As more and more companies and consumers shift their thinking on aging, ageist messages on things like greeting cards are decreasing. Melissa notes that while ageist cards used to be more prevalent, there seems to be a decrease in these negative stereotypes. She proudly mentions the positive trend she’s seen among her friends turning 50, with only a couple out of a hundred opting for the “over the hill” theme with walkers and black balloons at their parties—a stark contrast to a decade ago. Instead of viewing aging as frailty or an automatic decline in health, more consumers are making a conscious choice to avoid perpetuating these stereotypes by not buying such cards. She highlights an initiative in Colorado where artists were hired to create non-ageist birthday cards, focusing on vitality and boldness in aging, which promotes a more positive message.
Taking Risks and Improving Self-Image
Embracing who you are and surrounding yourself with empowered women of all ages contributes to a positive self-image. Melissa reflects on a transformative vacation experience in her 30s. She recounts traveling with older friends who embraced a no-makeup, be-yourself attitude, giving her an eye-opening sense of permission to relax and just be comfortable in her own skin. Their carefree approach to appearances shifted Melissa’s perspective, teaching her the value of genuine acceptance among friends and altering her self-image positively.
Christina resonates with the idea, highlighting the importance of intergenerational friendships and mentoring relationships. She shares heartening messages from younger listeners inspired by older women’s stories, who find courage to take risks and realize that failures are stepping stones to growth and learning. There is such a freedom when we stop fearing failure. Christina and Melissa encourage listeners to new things and embrace the learning journey that comes with it.
Living Ageless and Bold
The essence of this podcast is celebrating women in their 50s, 60s, 70s, and beyond who are redefining and reshaping their stories and journeys. This demographic is becoming healthier, wealthier, and more fit. They’re living ageless and bold—and they’re inspiring younger women to reflect on their own lives and empowering them to create their own fulfilling chapters at any age.
Melissa praises Christina for her contribution to this shift in societal expectations. An example of this shift is the evolving perception of aging and fashion among celebrities over 50—the idea that age should dictate how one dresses or looks has been debunked. Careers are another evolution. Melissa appreciates how the podcast explores “encore careers” and the potential for multiple fulfilling chapters in life, inspiring listeners to embrace growth and adaptability as they age.
We live in an exciting time when the possibilities of reinventing oneself exist at every age. Melissa reflects on how life stages shape opportunities. For example, when kids leave the nest, there’s newfound freedom to rediscover oneself. She emphasizes the value of accumulated skills and life experiences, suggesting a need to repackage these talents for new endeavors, presenting oneself to the world in a compelling way.
The Nuances of Stress
Melissa is a strong advocate for embracing the aging process gracefully and authentically. She emphasizes the value of learning from mentors and observing successful individuals as a means of personal growth.
In her discussions about stress, Melissa highlights an intriguing perspective: not all stress is inherently negative. Exploring the nuances of stress, she distinguishes between healthy stress that can inspire and invigorate and the detrimental impact of excessive stress on our overall well-being. Finding the balance between healthy activity and overwhelming stress is crucial, prompting the need to acquire and implement effective stress management techniques.
Acknowledging stress as a multifaceted aspect of life that influences both aging and our overall well-being, Melissa encourages the pursuit of a balanced approach. She underscores the importance of maintaining joy even amidst challenging situations. While life may throw occasional curveballs, it’s essential not to allow momentary setbacks to overshadow the enduring sense of joy.
When and How to Seek Medical Attention for Aging Loved Ones
Navigating aging requires a careful eye for potential health concerns that arise. Melissa highlights the importance of distinguishing between signs of normal aging, mild cognitive impairment, and potential indications of Alzheimer’s or dementia. She urges attentiveness to behavioral shifts, like a change in organization or added stress while handling routine tasks, as these could signal cognitive alterations.
Paying close attention to mental changes is key in identifying when medical attention may be necessary for aging parents or partners. Melissa advises tactful observation and gentle inquiries into concerning behaviors, acknowledging potential defensiveness or shifts in personality that might accompany cognitive changes. It is helpful to frame questions thoughtfully to avoid making loved ones feel defensive or cornered, especially when addressing memory problems or financial concerns.
She dives deeper into these shifts, highlighting changes in language, memory, and even driving patterns, mentioning the concept of “rat tracks” and how disruptions in familiar routines might indicate problem-solving challenges. These indicators, from nonsensical emails to difficulties remembering nouns, could signify cognitive shifts.
When discussing mental changes that come with aging, Melissa shares alarming statistics about suicide among older adults, particularly among older white males. It is important to stay connected with aging communities and checking on elderly neighbors, because ageism can lead to overlooked issues like caregiver stress or alarming situations that need attention.
Encouraging empathy and gentle guidance, Melissa suggests discussing these observations with a doctor during the next medical visit, emphasizing the importance of seeking professional advice when such changes arise.
Practical Tips and Continued Support
Melissa is a wealth of knowledge as she shares practical tips for healthy aging. For example, she encourages listeners to manage their inflammation through diet and timing of meals, emphasizing the significance of understanding the impact of inflammation on various health conditions. She also highlights the importance of strength training and flexibility exercises, especially in reducing the risk of falls and fractures.
Another resource is her upcoming support group, “Caring and Sharing with Melissa B,” for caregivers of individuals with Alzheimer’s. She also offers one-on-one consultations for those caring for aging parents through her website. They wrap up by discussing the synergy between their messages on aging well and career success and express mutual appreciation for each other’s work.
In her podcast, “This Is Getting Old: Moving Towards an Age-Friendly World,” Melissa provides valuable insights into important topics like aging, ageism, Alzheimer’s, and the need for better systems to support an aging population. Her podcast is available on various platforms.
For more information about Melissa’s upcoming programs and podcast, check out her website, melissabphd.com, and follow her on social media.
Watch her full episode here:
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