Last week I had my say on the rewards of intergenerational friendships. Today, I want to focus on the upper end of the age spectrum where Rosellen and I are definitely encamped. For a long time, I agreed with a gerontological social worker friend’s contention that aging is no less a social construction than race. I still believe that in some ways, but with the qualification that, with increasing frequency, there are loud signals emitted by your body that say otherwise. For that reason, I try to avoid an audience for my lumbering trips up and down stairs which are undeniable indicators that the parts are wearing out.
Still, we all know people who prematurely write themselves off as old and succumb to the stooped walk and the resignation to physical and mental decline. But there’s evidence that this is not the norm for “people of a certain age.” Every month a publication called the AARP Bulletin appears in my mailbox. More often than not I bundle it with the rest of the extraordinary amount of junk mail that greets me every day, but my wife recently convinced me not to be so hasty, that the Bulletin contains a lot of useful information for the organization’s constituents, which, by the way, includes, to my surprise, anyone over 50, as my 50-something daughters have also discovered. There are tips about managing new technologies, information about scams used to prey on older people, advice about how to tackle indefensible medical bills. The monthly trip to the trash bin was my own act of denial of the stage of life at which I have arrived and the special needs accompanying that stage.
Which brings me to the latest issue which includes, in addition to practical advice, a national survey conducted in conjunction with National Geographic called the “Second Half of Life Study.” I’m going to quote from the article about the survey and then share some numbers that support their statement. “… we can say with confidence that most prevalent opinions and stereotypes of aging were proven wrong… On the whole, life is good, especially for older Americans – especially those over 60. And the person you see in the mirror is far different from the type of person younger generations might think you are.”
The survey asks, “Assume for a moment that there was a pill that could slow down aging and maintain your health longer. How likely would you be to take that pill?” The percentage of people answering ‘’at least somewhat likely” is the same for the 80+ group (81%) as it is for the 18-49 group, which I take as a sign that the hunger for life continues to run strong for the elders. Here are some other findings:
- More people in the 80+ group are taking active steps to maintain their health than younger age groups, including an astonishing 44% who are pumping iron. (Count me among them.)
- Respondents 70 and above are more likely to rate their overall health as very good or excellent than any of the younger age groups, this despite the fact that 2/3 of them are suffering from chronic or serious health conditions. Anyone who has sat through the obligatory “organ recital” that begins every gathering of older friends and family may find this result surprising, but it’s another sign that the elders are not surrendering to their infirmities.
- On a scale of 1-10, more people in the 80+ group (66%) than any other age cohorts rate the quality of their lives as 8 or higher. In contrast for the 18-39 group only 20% are in the 8 or above group and only 24% of the 40-49 group. Now, my younger readers, does that make you wish that old age would come more quickly?
- Finally, only 4% of those above 80 fear death, as opposed to 22% in the 18-49 group, this despite the fact that it poses a more immediate threat to those of us closer to the end.
There were no questions on this survey about the sex lives of older folk, so to fill in the gap, here’s a quote from The Health Day Reporter:
The reality is that 40 percent of older Americans still have sex, while 54 percent of older couples still do it, according to a new poll from the University of Michigan.
Even more couples — 61 percent — say that sex matters for their quality of life. Luckily, 73 percent of those aged 65 to 80 are satisfied with their sex lives.
To older folks, those numbers might not sound so surprising, said Erica Solway, co-associate director of the university’s National Poll on Healthy Aging, published May 3. But, she added, the results might be eye-opening to younger people who think aging spells the end of romance.
So, dear readers, life ain’t so bad at this end of the age spectrum. There are many things that give us pleasure and that justify pushing ahead, despite our growing infirmities. I would be lying if I said I didn’t wish at times that I could turn the clock back to a time when the face and the body that confront me in the mirror were easier to look at but, in return, I would have to relive the stresses and conflicts of those earlier times. I think I’ll stay right here. Meanwhile, I hope that what I’ve shared here will encourage you to transcend the stereotypes about me and my age mates that come all too easy when you pass us in the street. There’s still a lot of life energy percolating behind that fraying façade.