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Aging is less pleasant if you succumb to the number

Satchel Paige, the legendary baseball player, once said, "How old would you be if you did not know how old you were?"

At the recently held American Society on Aging Conference in Chicago, the new chief executive officer of AARP, Jo Ann Jenkins, used this quote to introduce the topic of "Disruptive Aging."

The premise is: As you age, it is going to be a less positive experience overall if you succumb to the number — or even the circumstance.

"Embrace aging with open arms and upend your thinking about getting older" is the message put forward by AARP. "Stir things up a little."

When our granddaughter had a birthday a few years ago, she said, "I've never been 8 before, I wonder what it's like."

And then she proceeded to have "a tremendous year" engaged in school and sports activities she had never experienced before. She even was given the kitten she had been hoping to get; she named him Paige.

When we are young, the world is full of creative anticipation. In later decades, not so much. Why is that?

I know the weight of the decades and the challenges of multiple chronic conditions often drags us into circumstances less than ideal and results in attitudes that do not serve us well. Let's change what we can. Why not? Maybe we start small.

Here's one personal illustration that may speak legions. In the past few days I have had occasion to get in and out of vehicles of various kinds while nursing a pulled muscle in my back. Prompted by the concept of "disruptive aging," I found myself questioning the lack of easy-swivel seats that rotate you out of a car smoothly and safely. The market for infant and toddler car seats is a billion-dollar industry, after all. Why don't car manufacturers and safety experts similarly tend to the exploding demographic of aging drivers and older adult passengers with painful joints and mobility challenges. Heated car seats are great, but swivel seats would be incredible.

I was feeling disruptive and looked at my options — finding that there is a rotating disc you can place on a car seat that allows easy entry and exit to an automobile. I ordered two. And now I am crafting a letter to the auto industry and offering them a challenge. Do you think the fact that my husband and I are considering buying a new car will be an incentive? If enough of us ask for it, you never know.

Disruptive aging might take a little practice. So does aging well.

Sharon Johnson is a retired Oregon State University associate professor emeritus. Reach her at Sharon@hmj.com.