Last month I introduced my readers to a Pew Research Center article about the expectations and reality of growing old in America and a new term, “gerontolescence,” coined by Dr. Alexandre Kalache for baby boomers.
I would like to pursue further the contents of the 2009 Pew Research Center article, written by Paul Taylor, since it encapsulates some major findings about the upside and downside of growing old that those of us in the throes of aging may learn from and appreciate. (I commend the Pew article, “Growing Old in America: Expectations vs. Reality,” for a fuller explanation of information.)
This Pew survey taken of 2,969 respondents, 1,332 of whom were 65 or older, was done a full nine years ago and before the baby boomers started turning 65 in 2011. The opening statement by Taylor perhaps sums up the findings: “Getting old isn’t nearly as bad as people think it will be. Nor is it quite as good.”
The Pew graphs and commentary bear this out by showing a large gap between what young and middle-aged adults expect in old age and the reality reported by older Americans. That is reassuring to those of us in our prime!
Even when old age begins is perceptibly different depending on the age of the respondent. Young adults believe that most people become old at 60, while middle-aged adults put the age at 70. Adults above 65 put old age at 74. Now that hits too close to home!
My cousin Adele, who is a mere 89, is a prime example of someone in relatively good health, aging gracefully and still very active. I asked her what her expectations had been about aging and what the realities are that she now faces. Her parents were long-livers, mother to 94 and father to 100, and both working quite late in life, her mother into her 80s and father into his 90s.
She grew up around older people who never complained about being old, which colored her expectations about getting older. She didn’t really think about it that much, as she watched older people doing what needed to be done. And that is what Adele has practiced, even when she took care of her parents and her husband’s parents as they were in need of additional help.
As she is aging gracefully, Adele admits to not being able to do things as before, like climbing stairs because of arthritic knees inherited from her father, or to not accomplishing all that is needed in a day and feeling frustrated by these things. She does cling to a positive attitude, bolstered by her faith, as being very important as she ages.
Other Pew Research found that among “adults 65 and older, fully 60% say they feel younger than their age, compared with 32% who say they feel exactly their age and just 3% who say they feel older than their age.”
Perhaps these numbers are influenced by the way their lives have turned out, with the reality better than they expected for 45 percent of those age 75 and older and only 5 percent admitting it has turned out worse; the rest say that expectation and reality have pretty well matched. Even among those over 85, only about 1 percent “say that their lives have turned out worse than they expected.” For Adele, her expectations for aging and the realities of aging have generally matched.
Among those in their 60s, 70s and 80s, according to Pew Research, many say that they are experiencing many of the “good things” associated with aging—“time with family, less stress, more respect or more financial security.” The upside of getting older also includes more time for hobbies and special interests like traveling, and volunteer work.
As I indicated in a previous column on centenarians, people are living longer. The Pew article adds more perspective by stating that by 2050 about one in five Americans will be over age 65, and another 5 percent will be over age 85. So, where does that leave us prime-ers in the face of reduced birth rates, rising health care costs, rising death rates among the younger and middle-aged workers from addiction problems, an increasing tax burden from the national debt, a middle class that is finding it more difficult to pay all the “freight,” coming insolvency of Medicare and Social Security programs, and on and on ad infinitum?
We have heard about the coming insolvency of Medicare and Social Security for quite awhile, with the latest report appearing in an Associated Press article printed in the Carroll County Times this past June. Medicare will “become insolvent in 2026,” a mere eight years from now and “three years earlier than previously forecast.” Likewise, the report states that Social Security “will become insolvent in 2034.”
These programs are vital to the middle class and part of the expectations that retirees depend upon to make the realities of their older years possible and pleasant. We can only hope that the federal government can solve the issues — a longshot at best — or, that with the emergence of “gerontolescence” perhaps we can have those 65 and older remain in the work force, like Adele’s parents, and save these valuable programs! Let us hope that all the great expectations and the great realities of growing older are not undermined by a failing financial underpinning!
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Sorry to end on a less than upbeat note, but in August when we want to “chill out,” perhaps we need to be jolted into reality!