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Benefits and challenges of aging in the 21st century.
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The median age in my town is 51. It means half the people are older and half are younger than 51. In some of the towns around me, it goes up to 60. I am turning 50 in a few months too. In my head, I am somewhere in my mid-thirties. I remember my grandmother at 50. I feel, look, and act like a much younger person at her age. My mom constantly tells me to act my age. I resent that. It turns out I am acting my age. In the 21st century, 50 is middle age. That’s when people get their midlife crisis, screw up their lives, change careers, or go out looking for themselves. A couple of decades ago, it happened between 35 – 40.
Prolonged youth comes with benefits, but pay close attention to the challenges.
Better health. We have better dental care and medical interventions that save lives and keep us going. We have a huge supplements industry, understand healthy eating and exercising better, and feel protected by seat belts, food and drug regulations, worker safety laws, and so much more. We’ve got cancer treatments, physical therapy, and a pill for everything. We don’t smoke as much. Our air quality is much better, our water – cleaner, and we’ve got organic produce!
Women give birth later and have fewer children. As lovely as it is to be a parent, the toll birth takes on a women’s body is enormous. Also, the days of 10+ kids are well behind us, unless you are a Mormon. But even there, it’s not common anymore. Many choose not to have children at all. This keeps women younger longer, and they face less (or no risk at all) for complications due to childbirth. In addition, giving birth later often means more financial security and more life stability, making raising children less stressful.
People look younger. We take care of our skin and hair. We use sunscreen, and we’ve turned Botox into a $6 billion industry keeping the wrinkles at bay. Thanks to our insatiable appetite for younger and healthier-looking faces, the cosmetics industry thrives. Plastic surgeons make millions of dollars stuffing bosoms, plumping butts, shaping chins, and filling lips. An army of aestheticians, hairdressers, massage therapists, and sellers of every kind of toning and shaping equipment support our youth quest, while hair products, extensions, and restoration keep the mane lush much longer.
Less wear and tear. We don’t do as much manual labor. Most people would rather sit by a computer than dig ditches. We’ve got machines and automation, making life more efficient and easier, freeing up some leisure time while preventing wear and tear.
Active lifestyles! Seniors work out. Or at least try a few times per year. They do yoga, Tai Chi, and gardening. They hike, walk, and bike. Take dance lessons, go birding, and still surf even after 60. In other words, folks stay much more physically active than their grandparents. Many remember Tom Petty singing, “You never slow down, you never grow old.”
More playtime. People have hobbies, socialize, travel, and enjoy life much more than previous generations had time for. This reduces stress, fosters a sense of well-being, grows friendships, and keeps them happy.
We need more money! We pay for everything. All our treatments and improved lifestyles cost a lot of money. We now work a lot longer to retire because we can’t save as much. At the same time, there’s so much to buy, so much fun to be had, and so much pressure to keep looking younger and more affluent! Four trips per year for Botox injections can easily set you back $2000! Add up the hair and nail appointments, expensive supplements, vacations, Friday night drinks and dinners, toys, new cars… and that’s not including mortgage on a house that’s three times the size one needs. It’s estimated that now most people will have to work well into their 70s to save up enough money and retire. Social security income is no longer enough to live on even if one owns their home. Many also struggle with medical care costs and complications.
Living longer also means we need our nest eggs to last many more years. With very few pensions still out there, retirement planning befalls the individual. Yet, many aspire to retire early, as in their 50s, instead of 65 or older. A few manage to learn how to save and invest so their dream can come true. Sadly, most live paycheck to paycheck. Here’s a simplified suggestion of how much money you should have saved by age. Check it out and see if you are on track.
The famous book “The Millionaire Next Door” suggests the following formula to estimate your net worth: Multiply your age times your realized pretax annual household income from all sources except inheritances. Divide by ten. So, if you are 45 and making $80K/yr. => (45x$100K )/10 = $450,000. If you are double that above the mark (you save a lot more), you are a Prodigious Accumulator of Wealth. Very few are PAWs.
The world is changing. It means that our prospects for growth are either limited or contingent on our ability to shift, adapt, and pivot our lives and businesses according to the new reality. What made your money ten years ago maybe a liability now. Businesses and lives forever transformed because of COVID, and now they will transform again because of the war in Ukraine. But even without these, technology has changed the way we function on every level and will continue to change. Many jobs and services became obsolete. Yet different ones will be needed. It’s easier to navigate the changing world when you are just starting out and able to assess the direction you want to go. But when you’ve been following a plan and a path for decades, but now it seems to lead nowhere, what will you do? How will you adapt?
Having a purpose. By the time people enter their senior years, they’ve been places, accomplished a lot, and after playing for a while as they retire, life can start to feel monotonous and pointless. Finding purpose helps people stay positive, engaged, productive, and happy. A fellow writer, Janice Walton, who is a licensed mental health professional for over 30 years and in her senior years herself, writes an entire publication dedicated to aging well. She explores the topic of purpose in the lives of seniors in one of her later posts, What Role Does Purpose Play. She says about herself:
The literature says that a person must be mentally, physically, socially, and emotionally healthy to age well. I chose to be socially engaged even though my nature is to stay home. I exercised daily, even though exercise was not my favorite activity. I cut my sugar consumption by half even though I love cake and cookies.
My definition of aging well remains the same: being the best I can be despite life’s circumstances, but understanding my underlying purpose influences my willingness to make the hard choices.”
Seeing loved ones go. The most psychologically challenging aspect of living longer is seeing your significant others and friends go one by one. Seniors often feel lonely and more isolated. Women 60 and over constitute the largest group of antidepressant users. As people lose driving privileges, they also lose independence and community, contributing to their isolation.
Meanwhile, making new friends and looking for love after a partner has departed prove difficult. Establishing good relationships with younger generations can help. If you have grandchildren or could volunteer and mentor, do. Gifting the younger generation with your wisdom and attention can help them do better, and you feel better. Janice also talks about being a “grandfluencer” in one of her posts. Perhaps, you can be one too.
Caregiving and assistance. Most older adults prefer to “age in place.” Yet, many of them do need help with performing at least some tasks. We may be needing help at 85 instead of 60, but we will need it. What then? Can we afford it? Do we have enough friends and family to rely on? Where should we go after we can no longer stay home? If we age slower, it means we may need help later, but will we need it for longer? These are difficult questions to answer, and we need planners and support to help us navigate the later stages of our lives. Start planning early!
End-of-life preparations. This has got to be a depressing subject for everyone. Yet, don’t avoid it. Getting all your legal ducks in a row will help your children. It will be bad enough for them to grieve. You do not want to leave them a quagmire to untangle on top of it. Here too, having professionals on your side will help. Write and update your will and trust as your situation changes. Make sure the people you’ve left responsible for taking care of things still want to be involved. Leave clear instructions. Even make preparations for your pets! I have life insurance, and my dog is the beneficiary 😊
Old age will come. Make it your best time ever!
Ukrainians find that their Russian relatives do not believe it’s a war. The New York Times broke the story on March 6. It is now all over the media. Heartbreaking! The power of authoritarian propaganda. Pay attention…
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