Life Well Lived: Redefining aging in Alexandria

Life Well Lived: Redefining aging in Alexandria
Since 1990, the COA’s Excellence in Aging Awards have honored individuals and organizations that make a favorable impact on older Alexandrians. (File Photo)

By Mara Benner

Huaorani elders are revered for their wisdom, experience and shamanic capabilities. The elders are also thought to have magical powers that younger generations seek to emulate. If you have a New Guinean grandmother, you are likely to seek her guidance and wisdom on herbs and plants used for health and wellness.

In Japan, China and Korea, the majority of elders live with their families, offering wisdom, emotional support and multi-generational engagement.

Jared Diamond researched the above and more when he presented in a recent Ted Talk blog titled “What It’s Like to Grow Old, in Different Parts of the World.”

Cultures around the world have a wide variety of ideas on what decades of living on Earth means in society. Unfortunately, in the United States, aging adults are generally not received with the same wisdom and intelligent consideration as our Ecuadorian neighbors. Yet every day, an estimated 10,000 baby boomers are turning 65 years old in the United States, and this generation is expected to soon challenge the current aging concepts held by Americans.

Think of the television series “Grace and Frankie,” where two older women are actively engaged in life as if they were first-year college roommates. The two women are changing our understanding of what it is like to be a senior. They face the typical challenges of growing older but are unwilling to accept the stereotypical American conception of aging.

A recent Pew Research Center study, “Baby Boomers Approach 65, Glumly,” indicates that there are “79 million members of the Baby Boom generation and they account for 26 percent of the total U.S. population. By force of numbers alone, this group almost certainly will redefine old age in America.”

Alexandrians are no different. In 2017, almost 24,000 out of 154,000 Alexandrians – about 16 percent of the city’s population – were 60 years or older, according to the Alexandria Division of Aging and Adult Services. Similar to “Grace and Frankie,” older Alexandrians are continuing to be actively engaged in the community.

With wisdom and experience to share, our city’s seniors are signing up to get more engaged locally. One example is the Senior Academy offered through Senior Services of Alexandria. The Senior Academy offers a deep-dive into all things Alexandria – its resources, leisure activities, cultural educational opportunities and services. Experts offer overviews on each topic and provide resources so that the information may be shared more widely with others. SSA is currently seeking 25 city residents who are 60 years or older to join the next Senior Academy. The new session begins on Sept. 4. To learn more about the academy, visit

SSA also offers an array of services, programs and even local discounts for seniors. The organization’s monthly “Senior Living in Alexandria” cable show and speaker series reviews legal, financial, health and wellness and community engagement topics, among others.

At Home in Alexandria is another nonprofit organization known as a community of support, enrichment and fun for Alexandrians who have reached 55 years or older. The organization lists ongoing activities and events for active engagement in Alexandria. Through its membership, AHA offers social events such as happy hours, book clubs, dining out options, historical tours and discussion groups. Eligible Alexandrians are encouraged to try an event by contacting AHA at

The American Association for Retired Persons has even provided a new name for those who are bucking the way we think about older adulthood. AARP calls these individuals “aging disruptors.” The organization has a section devoted to aging disruptors along with a devoted hashtag #disruptaging. Here you can see how real-life Graces and Frankies are reimagining older adulthood. The so-called disrupters are developing innovative apps, producing films, redefining beauty and spreading the disruptive aging message.

Your 80s are the new 30s, and there is no time like the present to get involved. Check out these Alexandria-based groups.

Mara Benner is the founder of Four Directions Wellness, intuitively connecting body, mind, emotions and spirit. The organization is affiliated with the GW Center for Integrative Medicine and offers individual sessions, classes and consulting. Learn more at