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Longevity — For Boomers and the Boomed

by Jean Pond

A short time ago I had a birthday, a big one, which turned my thoughts to the Longevity Revolution. At the outset, I want to mention that I'm not a health professional. I'm a little old lady with an appropriate interest in aging, who has made it through the shoals of a number of health problems and has decided that she wants to keep on making it.

That birthday was before the terrorist attacks caused our every thought and plan to be filtered through our country's crisis. The airports search our luggage; the postal authorities search our mail and we search our souls.

In case you think that the older generation, you, I and this subject have little importance as measured against our present terrors, we are the warp and the woof, the voices of experience, the unflappable realists; so let us look with our wise eyes on the raw material that providence gave us.

We've been advised to seek appropriate distractions. Let's do some work on the ultimate distraction — ourselves.

I'm interested, maybe even excited about the prospects of longevity. That was not always the case. A decade or more ago, if you had suggested that I might live to be a hundred, I would probably have said, "Oh, no! I don't think I want to be a hundred years old." The mental picture would have been that one of disease and disability. We would added to the fiction that growing old is usually an unattractive process. Age was associated with loneliness, incontinence and, often, poverty.

Now we know that aging is not a disease. It is a normal stage of life in which disease can sometimes occur. We know that the sixty-five plus generation is growing much faster than the national as a whole. We know that the next generation of elders will be more mobile, healthier, more politically astute and better educated than today's elders. We can recognize symptoms of diseases our grandmother didn't live long enough to get. We can often avoid what used to be unavoidable — cervical cancer, osteoporosis, strokes. We can make informed choices about tests and treatments.

Dr. Ken Dychtwald of Age Wave says, "Tomorrow's elderly will have traveled to more places; will have read more books and magazines; will have met more people and will be part of a more powerful elderculture than any previous cohort in the history of the world."

The Boomers need to become interested and involved in health promotion and disease prevention now when they can affect the future of these fields, instead of looking at aging as something to avoid. If you don't like the vision of the person you expect to become, be a part of an effort change that image.

Eight years ago there were one hundred and twenty-four medicines being tested as anti-cancer agents. Today there are four hundred and two. My parents only saw a doctor when they were very ill. We have learned to see a doctor before we become ill.

Since 1900, life expectancy has nearly doubled. At some point, we arrived at a figure of age seventy-four for men and eighty years for women at some point. That is no longer valid and new figures will be appearing soon. I find that I couldn't accept those projections any way; that would mean I was past my 'sell date.'

The Census Bureau predicts that there will be nearly a million people over a hundred years old by the year 2050. If you have a sibling that has reached a hundred, you are eight times as likely to reach that age yourself. We know that a comfortable life does not guarantee a long life. There were African Americans who lived as slaves and yet lived a very long time; some Holocaust survivors have lived a long life.

William James wrote, "Be not afraid of life. Believe that life is wroth living and your belief will help create the fact." Dr. Thomas Caesario, Dean of Medicine at the University of California at Irvine, says, "Forget about a hundred. The future is moving on to one hundred and twenty."

Sites:

Dr. Ken Dychtwald on PBS:: A New Breed of Man and Woman Over 65 is Breaking the Mold

US Census Bureau: Age Data

University of California, Irvine, School of Medicine

©2000 Jean Pond for SeniorWomenWeb
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