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Life goes swimmingly for older adults who live without limits

Alicia Colombo

By Jay Nachman

Steve Crane, 77, of Fairmount, will be among more than 12,000 athletes to compete in the 2023 National Senior Games, taking place in Pittsburgh from July 7-28.

He’ll swim the backstroke in three races – 50, 100 and 200 yards, competing in the 75-79 age division.

After racing on his high school swim team and the swim team at the University of Pennsylvania, the now-retired real estate businessman gave up the sport while raising his family. Crane now has a blended family of four children and eight grandchildren.

He picked up the sport again in his 60s and began competing after learn ing about the Senior Games. “I thought that would add a little spice to my exercise,” Crane said. He first competed in 2017, when the games were held in Birmingham, Alabama. Last year, in Fort Lauderdale, he won two ribbons.

When he competed in 2022, Crane was the youngest swimmer in his age group. In July, he’ll be the oldest. “I’m looking forward to it, and I’m hoping that I can get at least one ribbon,” Crane said.

To prepare for the national competition, Crane practices two or three times a week for about an hour. His routine includes a warmup, swimming each of the distances in which he’ll compete, and other exercises to get him ready. Even if he doesn’t place, he says the effort will be worth it.

“The attitude is to be yourself, and just do it,” Crane said. “Just the fact that you have the gumption and willingness to go there, to exercise and to do what you can do. That’s the attitude that everyone takes. I hope I can compete when I’m 90, and, maybe, I can move up from ribbons to medals.”

Aging Unbound

May’s observance of Older Americans Month (OAM), led annually by the Administration for Community Living, showcases what Crane and millions of other older adults already know – age is not a limitation. The 2023 OAM theme, “Aging Unbound,” offers an opportunity to explore diverse aging experiences and discuss how communities can combat ageist stereotypes.

Kathryn Jedrziewski, Ph.D. knows a thing or two about combating stereotypes. She has worked in gerontology and geriatrics for more than 30 years. Currently, she serves as the deputy director of the Institute on Aging at the University of Pennsylvania. She also regularly presents a training program on “Our Assumptions About Older People” to professionals in aging services at Philadelphia Corporation for Aging, which publishes Milestones.

Some incorrect assumptions about older adults, according to Jedrziewski, include: “They’re slow. They’re often confused. They can’t learn new things. They’re stuck in their old ways. They should not be too fun-loving or have too much fun. They’re too old for love. They’re too old for romance and sex.”

When older adults are pushed aside, isolated or told they can’t do things anymore, “it spirals down from there, and it affects their mental health,” Jedrziewski said. “Eventually it’s going to affect their physical health. There is research that shows that negative stereotypes have a physical effect on people.”

The way to combat ageism is the same way to combat any stereotype: training, exposure and discussion.

“Getting out there and discussing it and doing training around the fact that these simply are stereotypes. The are not true,” Jedrziewski said. “Older adults have every variation the same as young people do. The more we can get to treating people as individuals and not honing on any stereotype, the better off people are going to be.”

It’s easy to say that, but not so easy to get people to participate in discussions about stereotypes.

I think there’s just a richness to life and wisdom. You can look back at things and pull everything together as you get older and make some sense of your experiences and really appreciate life.

~Kathryn Jedrziewski, Ph.D., deputy director of the Institute on Aging

Unfortunately, Jedrziewski said, health disparities in minority communities impact aging. Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias are more prevalent and occur earlier in minority communities. In addition, chronic conditions, like kidney failure, heart disease, hypertension and diabetes, also occur more frequently in minority communities.

These factors affect what people can do and where they can live as they age. But, for the most part, people are living longer and healthier lives.

“There is a wisdom that comes with age,” Jedrziewski said. “When you’ve reached a certain number of years that you’ve lived, you’ve gone through a lot of experiences. You have a better understanding of life. You know the ups and downs, and you’re able to handle problems better because you know they’re coming. You’ve seen something similar before.”

Jay Nachman is a freelance writer in Philadelphia who tells stories for a variety of clients.

Categories: Advocacy Milestones eNews


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