Lots of unseemly things happen to us as we age. We begin to lose our hearing, sight, memory, hair (!) and generally our whole body begins to change. Some of the changes are welcomed, like the wisdom we receive from our experiences over the age. Others, the physical changes, we try to avoid or put off with creams, lotions, pills, and other random preventative measures. The media continues to sell us the hype that younger is better and one should "defy" their age as long as possible. New information encourages us to embrace our age and love every year that's brought us the love, wisdom, and experiences of our lifetime.
One thing we can't change as we get older, however, is our body language. Over the course of your life your body language becomes a part of how you communicate with others. There are some general "rules" for body language but for the most part it's completely up to the individual which messages they send with their nonverbal communication.
The most powerful tools of body language, no matter what one's age, are the eyes. They say the "eyes are the window to the soul." If this is true, you can tell a lot about a person simply by looking into their eyes. The way we use our eyes can say a lot about the meaning behind the verbal message. Surprisingly, a large range of emotions can be conveyed through simply the eyes alone. As we progress in age, it might become easier for us to use our eyes to say the things we aren't really saying with our speech.
We learn how to remain calm and look directly into the eyes of the people we're addressing. Direct eye contact whether addressing an audience or answering a question of an individual indicates to others your level of confidence. Staring, however, should be avoided if at all possible since it sends more of a threat or challenge than the message of genuine interest. If you can't look someone in the eye, the message you send is that you're being rude, bored, or disinterested. Older people have learned how to control their eye gaze and stop having "shifty" eyes that look around a lot; a potential sign of dishonesty.
As we age, another important part of our body language is affected: our posture. You can tell a lot about a person merely by the way they carry themselves. Elderly people might have developed a subtle curvature to the spine which causes them to bend slightly in their posture. This shouldn't be interpreted as a signal of any kind when attempting to read their body language. Notice instead, however, how their posture shifts from one point of the conversation to another. If their posture is generally as straight as it can be, with their head up, and smiling, they are showing confidence, warmth, and sincerity. Normally walking with a slouch, or having your head down, might indicate that you feel awkward in a situation. These changes to our posture as we age shouldn't be interpreted as part of our body language.
Handshakes are another form of body language that can be affected by advances in age. When meeting new people, a firm handshake shows you are confident, trustworthy, and genuine. Elderly people are generally unable to grip firmly and should be given a more light handshake. This shouldn't by any means be a measure of their physical abilities, but should instead be interpreted along with other nonverbal communication as well. A limp handshake might make you appear weak and withdrawn to others, however, it's not necessarily the case with older persons. The best type of handshake, no matter your age, is one that is not too hard, but grips the other person's hand for a few seconds in a warm, friendly manner.
How do we move when we get older? At the very early stages of aging, we lose the "spring in our step" that we might have once had and our energy dwindles. Don't let these elements send the wrong ideas through your body language. Shuffling feet, similar to slumped shoulders, can indicate that you're tired and lack energy. In their worst interpretation, you might seem unmotivated or lack interest. Make a concerted effort to take full energetic steps that are determined in nature. Even if you're older, you can choose to make small, shuffling steps, or purposeful ones. The latter shows that you have a direct focus both in your walking and in your thinking.
There a number of nonverbal communications we make throughout the course of a conversation. However, we don't have to let our age or physical limitations send those signals for us. Daily practice and exercise to the extent of one's abilities is excellent for prolonging the time it takes one's body language to be affected by age.