Last Updated on 24 September 2020 by Ray Plumlee
I’m sure that you are all familiar with a plethora of expressions regarding age. “Life begins at thirty,” is surely a popular one, as is an alternative take on the same age, such as, “Never trust anybody over thirty.” But, why do we put so much emphasis on age? Perhaps it’s because we don’t find the alternative to aging, death, quite so attractive. One of the wisest quotes I’ve ever heard on the subject of aging was by Tryon Edwards, an American theologian of the nineteenth century, who said, “
A white male born in the year 1960 had an expected life span of sixty-seven years. He had a thirteen percent chance of living to the age of sixty-five, and a four percent chance of living to see eighty-five years. Say this man, at the age of thirty, fathered a son born in 1990. Junior could expect to live to be seventy-three, with an improved cha0nce, at 5 percent, of lasting 85 years. Overall; life expectancy, at birth, has increased from forty-seven years at the turn of the twentieth to seventy-five years at the new millennium. This represents an increase of sixty percent. The National Institute on Aging has said that, “The dramatic increase in average life expectancy during the twentieth century ranks as one of society’s greatest achievements.” But are we living better in addition to living longer? Studies seem to show that we are. In fact, fifty now appears to be the youth of old age.
Think about it. Our perception of age has changed significantly. We see portraits of Abraham Lincoln as president and think of him as a distinguished old man. But Lincoln was only fifty-one years old when he was elected. That’s only one year older than Paul Rudd, Ant-Man of the Marvel movie franchise! George Washington was only forty-four when he took command of the Continental army, but we think of him as a sage elder statesman. So, our perception of what it is to be old has certainly changed as our lives have been extended. For more recent evidence of this, look at the way you viewed your grandparents, as opposed to the way your children see theirs. Your grandma probably watched soap operas and baked cookies, while your kids’ grandma is out taking an aerobics class. And the elderly are viewed differently because they are different.
But what good does it do anyone to live to a ripe old age, if that life is not one of substance and enjoyment? Our parents and grandparents may have had a different perspective on living a long life than ours. They may have looked at it as just an extension of an existence plagued by aches and pains, with little improvement in their physical lifestyle. But life in the twenty-first century is a bit different. Thanks to medical advances in the treatment of diseases and the management of chronic conditions we can stay far healthier in the face of our advancing years. Arthritis need no longer cripple us, diabetes no longer needs to cause damage to our internal systems. Our failing eyesight can be treated with a prosthetic or surgery. Flu shots can spare us the misery of a disease that may have killed our ancestors.
Advances in treatments for old age-related disease, and in the process of aging itself, means we can hang on to our youth on a hitherto unheard of basis. And if you choose not to be satisfied with holding on to our internal youth, we can avail ourselves to treatments to our outer selves. We can, literally, look as good as we feel, instead of feeling as good as we look. But we need to take a proactive approach to living the best kind of life we can into our so-called golden years. We certainly cannot expect to take some sort of magic elixir from a fountain of youth. We are responsible for maintaining our health in our earlier years, so as to have a foundation to build upon as we age. Our parents and grandparents may have surrendered to the ravages of the advancing years simply because they felt they did not have any alternative. But we cannot allow ourselves to do the same. It does no good to say that fifty is the youth of old age when, at fifty, we feel as if we’re eighty. We cannot rely on medical advances, government intervention, or societal reform to pull us from a sinking ship which we ourselves have scuttled.
In order to maintain a high quality of life as we age, we must ensure a number of things. We must have mobility, be able to move about and relocate as we please. We must maintain our physical senses, our eyesight, our hearing, etc. And we must ensure that society, as a whole, does not marginalize us. We cannot sit on the sidelines and allow ourselves to be “taken care of,” comforting as that thought may be.
Our parents, grandparents, and even further back generations relied, for the most part, on the family. But, given the life expectancy of the past, we would not expect to be a burden for an overly extended period. This is no longer true, and we must make decisions and plans to ensure that we will be self-sufficient, mentally, physically, and even financially, for as long as possible. We are ultimately responsible for our well-being, after all. As we age, we join an ever-expanding portion of the population. In 2010, thirteen percent of the population of the United States was sixty-five years or older. By 2030 it is predicted that percentage will rise to twenty percent as the Baby Boomer generation sweeps through the population statistics. This is a significant proportion, one which will have a big say in legislation and attitudes as regards the process of aging.
It has often been said that wisdom comes with age. But wouldn’t it be nice if we could have both? The health and well-being of our younger years, as well as the ability to use them wisely.