For many men, thinking about the aging process breeds fear and anxiety. As the son of a client recently recounted, “Hearing myself saying to my son the same words—often in the same tone—that my father used to say to me was what really made me start thinking more and more about what it means to grow older.”
For this gentleman and many like him, seeing an aging loved one, especially one who is frail or ill, experiencing struggles with health, finances or mood can engender a fear of aging. This is unfortunate because psychosocial research has shown that the elderly are actually more content with life, less depressed and less fearful of death than their younger counterparts. However, rather than simply encouraging men in the middle ages and beyond to embrace growing older, having an open dialogue around fear of aging is important in understanding what the controllable, lifestyle choices and health-promoting behaviors are that can promote successful aging. We have researched the three most common concerns that men express around aging to initiate this very important discourse.
Fear #1 Impotence: After age 60, many men can experience a marked decrease in both sexual desire and function. There is a fear around aging-related impotence, especially given societal pressures on men to perform at optimal levels in order to be seen as “masculine.” Sexuality in aging is becoming a much more common topic and there is an increased appreciation for the very important role of sex in quality of life. Thus, if you are experiencing any changes or concerns about sexual dysfunction, there are a myriad of resources and physicians are quite accustomed to providing both pharmacologic and lifestyle recommendations to improve sexual function. For example, healthy men who have erectile problems often are also experiencing abnormal coronary tissue, higher incidence of high blood pressure, high blood fat and other markers of heart disease. Physicians commonly recommend getting cholesterol checked and making dietary and fitness changes if necessary as a first step to improving sexual function. Find a physician (or a mental health professional with expertise in sex therapy if you believe that mood may be contributing to problems) with whom you feel comfortable discussing these concerns and be fully informed of all available options.
Fear #2 Weakness: Feeling masculine can be deeply intertwined with feeling strong. For many men, seeing the aging-related changes in muscle and tone can be quite distressing. You can lessen muscle and bone loss (which will also help you to feel stronger) by weight training. Try lifting weights three times a week and set attainable goals for yourself. Consider seeking out a trainer or joining a fitness group to jump start your fitness routine. But, for many men, the many joys of growing older far outweigh the physical changes. For example, one of our clients recently sent us an incredibly heartwarming side-by-side portrait of him in his youth lifting weights juxtaposed with now, in his 80s, lifting his twin grandsons—the expression of contentment on his famous had remained largely unchanged!
Fear #3 Retirement: Retirement can provoke anxiety in many men because of fears around not having a sense of purpose and financial concerns. Many individuals largely tie their sense of self to their careers, and therefore, retirement can spur a feeling of identity or role confusion. We suggest you combat these feelings by maintaining active social ties and keeping up (or, finding new!) activities that you find fulfilling. From volunteering to learning how to play a new instrument or learning a new language, to serving as mentor to local youth, there are many ways to not only maintain, but strengthen your sense of purpose in the next stage of our life following retirement.