Seniors Are Generally Upbeat About Aging

According to an article in USA Today, “Life is good for most of the nation’s seniors, according to a recent poll of 2,250 older adults. Whether they move to “active adult” communities [….]or grow old in the homes where they raised their children, they say they are pretty darn content.”

With all the horror stories that we read with regard to aging, we might assume this to be a surprising finding.  According to William Frey, demographer at the Brookings Institution as quoted in the USA Today article, in part this is due to the fact that:

“People in retirement have dodged a bullet.  They’ve gotten to the promised land in time to avoid all the bad stuff.”

Again quoting the article:

This generation of retirees, including the oldest Baby Boomers, who turn 66 this year, are more likely to enjoy the fruits of their life-long labors than future retirees, Frey says. They stopped working before employers pulled the plug on pension plans, before companies stopped matching contributions to 401(k)s and before Social Security and Medicare finances hit the crisis stage.

According to Frey, he feels that as the economic environment changes, seniors will start to feel the hardship of aging more acutely.  Presently, the oldest Americans are the wealthiest with people over 75 having a median net worth of $218,800.

With the advances in medical care, individuals are living longer.  In 1940, when Social Security was first formed, less than 60% of the population lived to see 65 years.  Those born post 1960 have an 80% chance of reaching age 65. That is a big difference!

This generation of aging individuals is probably the most active and therefore potentially the healthiest, which might add to longer life.  Many continue to work, either out of necessity or to remain active and connected.

Although this silver lining report for the silver haired sounds promising, Frey did also put forth the cautionary note that as the economic climate changes, so will the outlook/circumstances of the aging population.  In other words, as we move away from being the wealthiest nation in the world, the free and easy life of older years may become less so.  Until then, let’s enjoy!

© Yvonne Behrens 2012


Who Gets Grandma After the Divorce?


Who from my family will step up and care for me as I grow older? That is a question a lot of baby boomers are asking themselves. Because the prospects are scary.
In a study reported in Long-Term Care Magazine, divorce and remarriage is changing the role of adult children in caring for aging parents and the quality of family relationships is often trumping genetic ties argues a researcher from the University of Missouri.
Lawrence Ganong, a professor and co-chair at the university’s Department of Human Development and Family Studies, found that relationship quality, a history of mutual help and resource availability influence decisions about who cares for parents and stepparents.
Ganong said: “How close family members are to each other, how much they have been helped by them in the past and what hardships caregiving might place on family members are important factors when people consider caring for older kin.”
Ganong and his research team presented study participants with hypothetical caregiving scenarios involving an aging parent or stepparent and a child or stepchild. Participants then responded to questions about their perceptions of who should provide care.
The majority of participants said biological factors are relevant in caregiving decisions, but they do not automatically require adult children to help older relatives.
“Based on what happens before, during and after marital transitions, family members may change what they think their responsibilities are regarding helping and providing care to kin,” Ganong said. “As a society that relies on families to provide much of the care for older adults, we need to better understand the effects of changes in families due to divorce and remarriage.”
Ganong recommended that middle-aged adults have honest conversations with parents and stepparents about expectations for caregiving and other types of assistance before needs arise.
Ganong’s study, “Who Gets Custody of Grandma After the Divorce? How Marital Transitions Affect Family Caregiving Responsibilities,” was funded by the National Institute on Aging.
So now I am praying that my stepson, whose mom I am divorced from, will stay married to my lovely daughter-in-law!

Aging: The West’s New Pariah

Portrait of old woman sitting by a window.

Image via Wikipedia

The other day I was speaking with a very successful 50-something realtor and I asked her what she thought about aging.  Her response: “The topic depresses me.”  Hmm.  That sounded like a very familiar answer.  “Yes,” I replied, “The way our country has dealt with the aging issue has been rather depressing.  But you and I are at an age when we can still effect change and can re-create a paradigm that has only been in place for approximately 50 years.”

Prior to World War II, the elderly remained at home, surrounded by their families, participating in the day-to-day activities.  After World War II, our nation focused on mobility and youth as the image it wanted to project.  Not a lot of room for the elderly within that picture.

So what did we do?  We created a band-aid fix: the retirement/nursing home.  It certainly is one way to deal with all the ‘old’ people “left behind” in our fast-paced ever forward looking society where “New!”, “New!”, “New!” gets shouted out every time one turns around.  But as any of us who has interacted with these homes knows, the isolation and humiliation that can be caused by being in a space that is not your own and being taken care of by strangers is, well, depressing.

This is not to say that individuals do not make friends in these homes or become very close to their caregivers.  As with everything, there are many scenarios that can occur within one picture.  However,  one has to wonder at a system in which those employees who interact most intimately with the resident by helping them get dressed, showered, toileted, and fed are also the lowest paid in the hierarchy.

One outcome of our society’s focus on mobility and youth is that many of us have gone into denial about our aging process.  Baby boomers and older are spending a lot of time trying to look and be younger whether through plastic surgery or keeping fit.  I don’t think it is bad to remain youthful and strive to remain active in our day-to-day life.  What I have an issue with is the co-opting of the image of youth as the only game out there.

Another outcome is that the health industry has started to focus on the aging population and is doing everything to keep the aging process at bay to the extent of now referring to aging as a disease –“Is Aging a Disease?”

Aging a disease?  I always thought that aging was part of the cycle of life, a cycle we see reflected in everything around us.  The tree blossoms in Spring, leafs out in Summer, starts to loose leaves in Fall, and stands starkly against the Winter landscape.  Each period has its own special beauty and we don’t usually associate this normal process with disease.  Wow!  Ultimately, I believe that our buying into the idea that aging is a disease will allow a whole new branch of the pharmaceutical industry to — do I dare say –blossom, but I don’t know that this will keep the “bogey man aging” out of our lives.  It will just push it back by a number of years and I think the jury is still out on whether this is a good or bad thing [see: Aging: The New Financial Industry]

Nope, folks, aging is part of the process of life and the sooner we acknowledge this, the more empowered we will be to create an older age to our liking.  Does this sound like a negative statement?  If it does, know that this is how much you have been “brainwashed” into looking at old age as an anomaly rather than a normal part of the cycle of life.

In all aspects of our society, there is a reverence to youth from advertising to the image that the e-world projects, to the products that are sold, even to the way we parent.  But by allowing advertisers, for example, to tell us what we want, how we want it, and when we want it, we do a disservice to ourselves and those who are still oblivious to the aging process.

Here is another article that speaks to this “Aging Successfully

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