The Myth of Aging Gracefully

By Jacoby, Susan | Newsweek, February 7, 2011 | Go to article overview

The Myth of Aging Gracefully


Jacoby, Susan, Newsweek


Byline: Susan Jacoby

Who wants to live to 100? Just about everyone, if old age fulfills the fantasy that we can sail through our 90s with vigorous bodies and minds and die instantly of a heart attack, preferably while making love or running the last of many marathons. As the oldest baby boomers turn 65, it is past time to take a realistic look at old age as it is--not as a minor inconvenience to be remedied by longevity-worshiping hucksters of "anti-aging" supplements or brain-teasing computer games, not as a "disease" that will soon by "cured" by a medical miracle, and not as an experience to be defied and denied, in the spirit of a 2008 World Science Festival panel on aging titled "90 Is the New 50." No, it's not. It's not even the new 70.

The truth is that we are all capable of aging successfully--until we aren't. The media love to uphold examples of "ageless" aging like Betty White, a scintillating comedian at 89, or Warren Buffett, an investment sage at 80. These exceptions are easier to think about than the general rule that physical and financial hardships mount as people move beyond their relatively hardy 60s and 70s, classified by sociologists as the "young old," into the harsher territory of the "old old" in their 80s and 90s. There is a 50-50 chance that anyone who survives to blow out 85 candles will endure years of significant mental or physical disability. The risk of Alzheimer's disease doubles in every five-year period over 65. Furthermore, two thirds of Americans older than 85 are women, who usually become poorer as they age. Many won't die at home, with the best care money can buy, as Sargent Shriver did in January, but in a Medicaid-funded nursing facility after their life savings have been exhausted. …

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