By Richard C. Gross
As his ailments piled up on the approach to his final age of 89, my father often suggested that people live too long.
Elders lamenting the inexorable march of years that record how long they have been alive, and the aches and pains that accompany them, often try to amuse each other, and themselves, by reminding with a wan smile that “getting old isn’t for sissies” and aging “beats the alternative.” True enough.
We live in a country where the population is aging, which is good news for older Americans because it means more medical attention and facilities may be devoted to the ills that besiege us, if government is willing. Those over 65 account for nearly 13 percent of the U.S. population, and they will number 20 percent of Americans in fewer than 25 years, says the American Psychological Association.
“You can live to be a hundred if you give up all the things that make you want to live to be a hundred,” quipped Woody Allen. Skateboarding definitely is out. But, as George H.W. Bush demonstrated, skydiving is in.
If it’s not one thing, it’s another. That sense of life coming at you too fast afflicts the young, too, but the phrase takes on more meaning the older one gets because it’s associated with the decline of the body.
Bones pop and creak; hearing and eyesight diminish; backs and hips hurt; short-term memory lags; learning new things in the age of the smartphone and apps becomes more difficult; sensation, perception and problem-solving is skewed; and the bathroom becomes a more familiar place.
And, lurking like a hovering Death Star, is the threat of illness — with the Big C, or cancer, the biggest of them all.
That brings up scary worries about the rising cost of meds and supplemental health insurance; the solvency of Medicare; whether Social Security, the prime source of income for those over 65, will melt away, considering there has been no cost-of-living increase this year and a scheduled minuscule one for next; and, for those with investments in the financial markets, whether those pillars will hold up as the global economy seems to be sinking into a morass (the Fed’s 10-year note offers a piddling 1.6 percent interest, as of July 15).
Then there are the fears: of traveling, of falling, of new technology, of aging and, of course, of dying.
“As we age, and particularly become more vulnerable in terms of mobility, cognitive skills and physical aging, a natural function of the vulnerability is to feel fear in situations where that would not have happened earlier in life,” says the Senior Citizen Journal.
With all of this in mind, assuredly there are many among us who would like to shoot the marketing executive, or whomever, who had the temerity to label the time after 65 as “the golden years.” Ya think?
Older people try to remedy the present by recalling their more glorious days. There’s a white-haired gentleman at my gym who requires the help of a trainer to get through his exercises. The trainer told me the man likes to talk about his days as a Navy fighter pilot in the Pacific during the Korean War.
I tried to avoid the onset of seniorhood by learning how to ride a motorcycle. I failed the test. I’m glad I did. I didn’t want to beat older age by dying on the road. I looked it up to see what I’m missing.
A total of 4,295 motorcyclists died in crashes nationwide in 2014, the last year for which those statistics are available, and accounted for 13 percent of all of the 32,675 motor vehicle crash deaths that year, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Not a healthy statistic.
Of course, there always are good things about aging. Like gathering wisdom. Grandkids. And recognizing nonsense for what it is.
The American Psychological Association again: “In spite of a decline in physical health, two-thirds of older adults who are not living in institutions (such as nursing homes) report their health to be good, very good or excellent compared with others their age. What’s important to remember about people over 65 is that while many begin to experience some physical limitations, they learn to live with them and lead happy and productive lives.”
So go for it.
Richard C. Gross, 76, retired as opinion page editor of The Baltimore Sun. He lives in Santa Fe, N.M., and his email is firstname.lastname@example.org. Column courtesy of the Associated Press.