One of Carroll County's retirement communities uses an advertising tagline that says, "we know that your age does not define you." Then the ad always pictures a resident saying, "I'm not a senior, I'm a _______," a defining word like "cultivator," "time traveler," or "performer" about the person doing something meaningful with his or her older years, connecting with his/her passions, discovering new paths and possibilities.

Still another Carroll County retirement community uses the tagline, "Discover how you will Flourish" at its facility, with an accompanying photo of people enjoying themselves in some endeavor. The focus is on staying well longer, maximizing one's independence and enjoyment by being involved in the six dimensions of wellness: physical, emotional, intellectual, social, spiritual and vocational.


Surely both of these ads are meaningful for prospective residents of the communities as they appeal to prime-ers' desires to remain active and healthy as they age. By de-emphasizing age, the ads highlight how we as prime-ers can "grow" and continue to thrive as we age.

I noticed with great interest that neither ad said anything about being a "retirement" community or about our "retirement" years! That word "retirement" has connotations that both communities seem to want to avoid. After all, retirement connotes leaving, ceasing, withdrawal, and seclusion. And retire connotes retreat and disengage, all things that go against the modus operandi of these communities to engage their residents to defy their age. Surely these communities do not want their residents to go into seclusion, to withdraw, to retreat or to disengage! They want residents to find meaningful "work" and recreation — note the word "re-create" in that word, implying that we can recreate ourselves even as we age — and to grow older gracefully.

As the 60-plus population continues to rise dramatically — see March 2018 column for numbers — how can our local and state governments, human services agencies, churches, and non-profits determine how to meet the needs of those prime-ers not living in retirement communities like the two listed above? If age does not define us as prime-ers, what does define us?

Perhaps a better question is, how do we keep age from defining us?

A friend of mine who recently turned 80 said that she was trying to adjust to that number, when people tend to think of 80 and older as the time when one is useless or worthless. Allowing others to define us as "over the hill" smacks of ageism prejudice rearing its ugly head, something we must try to avoid.

Perhaps rather than dwelling on our age in years, we should erase the number from our thinking and concentrate on how we want to be defined. One of those ways to be defined is to continue meaningful "work." That work could involve something we continue from our work life or that is related to a new avocation —inventing or building things to help others, volunteering in a school to help students learn, serving on committees and boards to share expertise, working for one's church/synagogue or social club, any number of things that give us a reason to get up and make the bed and a purpose for our days.

Besides meaningful work, another way to define us as we age is to involve ourselves in meaningful enjoyment. A hobby that we perhaps started years ago but never had the opportunity to pursue with perseverance can become a worthwhile passion to fill our days. I know people who always wanted to pursue art in some form or other. Instead of withdrawing, they picked up the pen and ink to draw something they saw in their mind's eye or the palette and brush and began painting from a photo they took many years before, thereby expressing their creativity for others to enjoy. Whatever meaningful enjoyment we engage in, there are always classes at the various senior centers and Carroll Community College that can stimulate us intellectually to learn techniques and various ways to pursue our passion.

Although most of us do not work and make money in a traditional job setting and many may not be able to travel as much as we used to, there are many other things to fill our days. Meaningful enjoyment may simply involve meeting friends and family for breakfast, lunch or dinner and breaking bread together in true companionship. Bowling, swimming, playing poker or bingo with friends, going to concerts and movies, researching one's genealogy, listening to music, reading a book, writing one's memoirs, and any number of other things can meet our need for enjoyment.

If we can agree that our age does not define us as prime-ers, what does define us?

What defines us is what has always defined us — our needs and our desires. I would suggest that our needs and desires have remained the same throughout life — our need to feel needed, useful and worthwhile; our desire to be healthy and well and our desire to feel respected, appreciated and loved. When those needs and desires have been met, we can then, according to those previous ads, "experience our personal best" and "live the life that's most meaningful to us" well into our golden years.

By the way, if what makes your older years meaningful and defining is being a mother, grandmother, great grandmother, etc., Happy Mother's Day!

Hermine Saunders writes from Westminster. She can be contacted via email at hermines@verizon.net.