for release May 17, 2002
by Melodie Davis
Note to Editors: This is part 1 of a special 3-part Another Way series on Aging
Reinventing the Way We Age: Will Baby Boomers Do It Better?
Okay, so I didn't rush to get my AARP membership card in the mail. If you have to ask what AARP is, you're too young to read this article.
I had my 50th birthday last December and sure enough, a month or two later, the dreaded invitation into the retired people's association arrived. I had been warned that that would be a definite sign that I was truly over the hill. In this column we'll look at some of the issues involved in aging.
I'm learning that as with every stage of life, getting older has as much to do with attitude as age. If you anticipate that the two's will be terrible, they'll be terrible; if you dread the teenage years, they'll be dreadful. It's the same way with the 60s and beyond. Some of our attitudes create self-fulfilling prophecies. "Aging is what you make it," several senior citizens remarked at a breakfast I spoke at recently.
Now, I can't blame you if you have already gone on to read something else. When it comes to aging, most of us are in massive denial. This is a tough sell. "Try selling products or raising money for programs that use the word aging," say Thomas R. Cole and Barbara Thompson, editors of a special edition of Generations (Journal of the American Society on Aging, Winter 2001-02). "Growing old has never been fashionable in the country of the young." But if you can dig this topic and keep reading you'll cut down on the dread factor. It's like checking a road map before you launch a trip.
I'm fortunate to be part of the baby boom generation (and I like to think I'm at the tail end of it, of course). The baby boomers, because of their sheer numbers, are creating new waves as with all the other ages we encountered. Some of the waves are unnerving, like how will so many be supported by so few on "old age" government programs. Other changes are more encouraging, such as stereotypes about aging will be altered or vanish as baby boomers challenge the expectations.
Experts say the baby boom generation will cause all kinds of changes. Ira Byock, a medical doctor and author of the book, Dying Well, refers to "the coming tsunami of caregiving." Eve Harold, author of I'll Be There: Caring For Your Parents, Job And Marriage, calls it a seismic shift, changing how goods, services, and money will be distributed, and not just in North America. A demographer for the UN population division, Joseph Chamie, notes that "the world's population is steadily getting older everywhere." By the year 2050, predictions are that there will be four working-age people for every person over 65, worldwide. In 1950, the ratio was 12 to 1. In 2000, it was 9 to 1.
One of the more subtle difficulties regarding aging is the identity issue. I have heard many elderly persons say they are asked frequently, "And who did you used to be?" meaning, of course, "What did you used to do?"
"Well, I used to be a pastor, but I'm still David Smith," is how one older gentleman responded to this query. This loss of identity can become a faith struggle: Did I lose my identity with my job? Who am I? What am I to do now? The elder years become as much of a struggle with identity as the classic struggles of the adolescent years. This can provide a linkage between the generations-knowing we struggle with the same things.
There are gender differences in how people age; generally women share their feelings more, and get their feelings out in the open while men may be more apt to brood and become depressed.
Most older people experience a serious learning curve: life is different. If you retire at 65 and live till you're 95, (which is not that unusual) you have almost a third of your life left. Some folks working in the field of aging refer to this as "the "third age vocation." Oftentimes the messages given to retirees are "You need to conserve, rest and sit by." These are all very counterproductive messages. Are you going to just throw away a third of your life? While the middle-aged generation is totally stressed out and busy, why should the elderly sit by? So there are many benefits of being involved with other people especially after 65. Programs linking older, middle aged, and younger bring benefits to all.
For a free booklet, "Growing Older Without Fear," write to: Melodie Davis, Another Way c/o Name\Address of YOUR newspaper; or e-mail: Melodie@mennomedia.org.
You can also visit Another Way on the Web at www.thirdway.com.
Melodie Davis is the author of seven books and has written her column since 1987. She taught feature writing and has won awards from a number of organizations including the National Federation of Press Women, Virginia Press Women and the American Advertising Association. She and her husband have three growing daughters.
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