While on sabbatical from Hospice I have been researching a thing called old age. I am in it so I may as well understand it before I’m off in a corner in my wheelchair drooling all over myself. What are you looking at buddy? And that is my starting point. I mention 70 or 80 or 90 and each one of us conjures up some image from out of our personal Emoticons. Preconceived notions, hangups, stereotypes and prejudices. Aren’t we all the same? I hope not.
We are looking at this entirety of 75 million grey hairs and saying one size fits all. I think there are at least 3 or 4 vectors as I will call them. They are a combination of age, wellness,gender and economic status. To start there is perceived age and actual age. I am 71 but at least mentally I feel like I am in my early forties. Physically I will give you 50 and not a day more. I am not a monk but Kathy and I eat pretty well and our health is on the up side. Not bragging but rather saying how fortunate we are.
I was at a cocktail party and asked those around me how old they felt? Some came in the same as yours truly but a large number gave me their actual age or worse. Some people are fit as a fiddle and others are chronically ill. I guess we should figure out some sort of a scoring system so we can establish a proper methodology of care and feeding. But then again someone will say I am being judgmental. Well I am. Not to take away your benefits but to better address one’s needs.
In senior housing things are split into independent living, assisted care and critical care. I refer to that as GoGo,SloGo and NoGo. How insensitive of me. AARP wants you heading for the grave as you hit 50. What started out as an advocacy group has morphed into combination voting bloc and marketing behemoth. Little do you know but they are getting a pop on most things they endorse from insurance to consumer products. Prudent politicians have suggested the retirement age be extended to 70 by the year 2040 and no one currently covered would be affected. Not a chance per AARP, one of the largest voting blocs by their own estimation. But enough of politics.
Psychologically speaking, old age can be devastating. Going back to that perceived age we make a steep reversal from being independent to dependent on others for almost everything. For some this is not a weaning process but radical surgery. Don’t go out at night. Be careful lest you fall. Get thoroughly checked out by the latest medical this or that for the tiniest of malady. Don’t do this. Don’t do that. Act your age. We become risk averse. That brings us to safe and predictable but our derring do has served many of us well for decades and now you want to take it away.
That caution affects one’s activity. You stay in more, limiting your landscapes and your relationships. Your new sedentary lifestyle creates tons of spare time. You watch TV or you watch for someone outside your home who is speeding down the street or kids who are cutting through your yard. For some reason you seek control by yelling out the window or calling the cops. People start to give you a wide berth as your cranky attitude becomes a way of life. Sad but true in oh so many cases. Your kids and your doctors make the decisions.
Older people move slower and take longer to do certain things whether it is getting dressed or hitting a golf ball. That breeds impatience from the kids and downright hostility from the outer world. So you go to a retirement community which on paper looks great. In actuality you now have a bunch of grouches living together and feeding off each other’s misery. Sounds depressing? It is.
We are all going to die whether you are eight or eighty. A great doc by the name of Bill Thomas has categorized us. There are Denialists. They are have facelifts and makeovers of every sort. They run marathons and climb mountains not for the fun of it but to prove the Grim Reaper will have to use his scythe elsewhere. The Fountain of Youth is out there. They just have to find it. Then there are the Realists who accept their lot however dire. As one of these cats said to me re Florida,”We just look at it as God’s waiting room.” Geez Louise.That is creepy.
Then there are the Enthusiasts. Sure we are going to die but if we look at the next twenty to thirty years as an opportunity to learn, grow and God forbid we might add something to the world. That in itself is a very exciting thing. There are no rules or timelines.Instead of being range bound we are as free as birds. You eat a blueberry because it tastes good not because it is good for you. You want a cigar or a martini? Go for it. Uh oh, I just shaved a year off my life. Big deal! Every day 15,000 people reach 65. 80% of them have some sort of chronic condition ranging from arthritis to type 2 diabetes. 50% have two. We cannot cure you of everything as modern medicine would have you believe. In other words deal with it but also make the most of it.
My work is leading me to a conclusion that we have to help people prepare for more than a nursing home or hospice. We have to show people how to retire from the get go. Help them write their business plan for the rest of their life. That is not just a hopeful concept but a complex and wonderful time to figure out what could be. It’s a lot more than playing golf or taking a cruise. It is learning how to live life all over again.
There may be a limited audience who want to hear what I have to say. If I hit even a small percentage of those 75 million how much better would they and our world be today? Are they an asset or a liability? Which way do you think I am voting?
Ted The Great
Your personality does not change in old age. If you are a grouch you have always been prone to negative thinking. If you are a nervous Nellie or control freak that won’t change. You just have more time to practice it. If you are cool and serene there is nothing but more of the same.
The average lifespan in the US is 79 years of age. That is 53rd in the world.Male 76.59 Female 81.53. The average healthy life span is 72. The implications of this for quality of life and the cost of medical care going forward is mind boggling.
By the time your heart stops it will have beaten over three billion times. “Takes a licking and keeps on ticking.”
In a hostage situation you are likely to be released first.
Getting lucky means you find your car in the parking lot.
You wake up, looking like your driver’s license picture.
Your pacemaker raises the garage door when you see a pretty girl go by
Your try to straighten out the wrinkles in your socks and discover you aren’t wearing any.
You come to the conclusion that your worst enemy is gravity.
Remember …It all Depends
I would appreciate any thoughts you might have regardless of your age. This is not just a mental exercise. I think it is beyond interesting and maybe,just maybe, beneficial to all.