What's great about being old?
July 5, 2007 4:23 PM   Subscribe

[Optimism Filter] Tell me about why it's never been better to be old, and why it will keep getting better.

So, I've recently realized that I will, in fact, get "old". I'm 28. Besides completely freaking me out, this epiphany has, in the span of about a week, completely changed my attitude towards the elderly and middle-aged. Maybe not 180 degrees, but definitely more than 135.

I come from a pretty dysfunctional family--from which I am now completely estranged--so I haven't had any "older" loved ones for a very long time. Long enough to forget what it's like to love "older" people. As a result, I've developed a pretty chauvinistic attitude about youth, and have been known to gripe about the power of the "geezer lobby", the way they demand tax money for drugs, etc.

But, like I said, that's changed, and I've suddenly become intensely interested in learning about "aging gracefully", elder care, geriatrics, etc. No kidding. I'm actually now encouraged by the political clout of the baby boomers as they head into retirement, as it will undoubtedly lay the groundwork for a much better society that I can retire in.

My question is: What are some encouraging things about being elderly in America (or any other western country) today, and how is it getting better? What are some encouraging statistics? How about some promising research? Stories about grandparents who are still active in the community and loving life? Or just tell me how you're young and you thing your grandpa is the best!

Anything! As long as it's positive!
posted by mpls2 to Society & Culture (32 answers total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
The Singularity is near.
posted by commander_cool at 4:34 PM on July 5, 2007

posted by bondcliff at 4:34 PM on July 5, 2007

yes! the singularity is totally gonna kick ass!!
posted by garethspor at 4:38 PM on July 5, 2007

It's better than not getting old.
posted by Space Kitty at 4:38 PM on July 5, 2007

It's better than not getting old.

See, I don't necessarily agree with that. To me, it's all about quality of life, not quantity.
posted by mpls2 at 4:47 PM on July 5, 2007 [1 favorite]

Anything! As long as it's positive!

So, not the truth? Embracing the cold truth is the only way you will find any peace.
posted by parallax7d at 4:53 PM on July 5, 2007

Old age is where all the healthy living and exercise of your youth pay off and you get to be glad you lived well when you were young. It's the time when you can see whether all those financial advisors were right when they told you about compound interest.

You're young enough right now to really test the hypothesis and plan for your eventual retirement. Woohoo!
posted by The World Famous at 4:53 PM on July 5, 2007

All the guy's who really have the money, are too old to have a good time with it, too old to take the women out, too old to buy a fast car and drive it
posted by kanemano at 5:02 PM on July 5, 2007

You get all the good weather from global warming and you're dead before the bad stuff starts to matter.
posted by puddpunk at 5:12 PM on July 5, 2007 [1 favorite]

I always thought the cool part about getting old was being able to sit in parks and play checkers like you see in films. There's a kind of contentment there that I don't feel as an ambitious youth.
posted by ukdanae at 5:19 PM on July 5, 2007

Funny. I'm 28 now too and in the past year, I've really started to feel "old" - and find myself saying things like "when I was your age..." and "believe me, when you get to be as old as I am..."

I dunno that singularity is something to look forward to. But I remember something a high school senior told freshman me, after a woman I'd been crushing on went after him instead :

"I know what you're going through, I've been there too. Thing is - one day you'll become the older guy the younger women go for and you'll have to give this speech to someone else"

So, every day you get older is another group of younger women you'll attract now that you may have had trouble attracting before.

Other than that, uhh... I think when you're like 35 you can run for president?
posted by revmitcz at 5:20 PM on July 5, 2007

What I'm noticing about aging (40 is 2 months away) is I still feel like that 17 year old girl inside. Oh sure, I've got more experience in just about everything, my behaviour is under way better control, I earn more money, but I still know her, am her, still feel like there's a world out there I want to know about, and people I want to meet and books I want to read, new music to hear, and for sure, I am in no way ready to give it up and start being middle-aged.

So while not claiming to be old, I think one of the things I'm noticing about aging is, it's pretty much in the eye of the beholder. You may look at me and see wrinkles and responsibilities, or you could look at me and see a person.

I, for one, blame the media on this one. Holding up unlined, inexperienced youth to be the holy grail, pah. Stuff is richer when you've had time to think about it. Who likes gardening when they're ten, eh? But give it some time, and the feel of the soil on your hands, the knowledge that you're working with nature to create fruit or flowers, that you can't rush it, you have to work with the seasons - that's the taste of being older. Time to really think and appreciate things.

Aging is about not having to prove yourself to anyone, about being amused by a generation who thinks they discovered rebellion (just like yours did) and not letting it show. Aging gives you time to discard the useless things (for me, I'm paring down possessions) and follow new dreams.

Aging isn't a death sentence - it's like getting to take pictures with an entirely different type of camera.

I hope.
posted by b33j at 5:24 PM on July 5, 2007 [20 favorites]

Psychologist types claim that people tend to become happier as they get older.

As for my generation, we hope we die before we get old.
posted by epimorph at 5:31 PM on July 5, 2007

Medical care for the elderly has come a long way in recent years, and will continue to improve as baby boomers age (supply and demand, ya know). Palliative and hospice care have also improved by leaps and bounds, and there is a much greater awareness of people's desire to die with dignity and with as little pain as possible. I just read last week about a growing trend of volunteer organizations that provide on-call volunteers to sit with people who are dying in a hospital and don't have any remaining family or friends to be with them. As sterile and mechanical as death has become in our society, we're starting to take steps to correct that problem. By the time we're in our 80s, hopefully the process will be even more enlightened. I don't think there's any question that end-of-life care is rapidly improving.

As for being old, I think its goodness depends on the goodness of the rest of your life. Old age is when you get to reflect on the good things you've done, and the people you've helped. It's when you get to see your kids do great things because you raised them right, and you get to be proud watching them valiantly struggle to raise their kids right. If you made lots of money, it's when you get to sit back and enjoy it. Or, if you didn't do much good, didn't help many people, didn't work to inspire loving relationships in family and friends, then maybe being old won't be so much fun. The moral is to make sure you're doing things now that you'll be able to look back on fondly, and make an effort to teach others to improve the world too. You'll see the eddies of your influence expanding as the years go by if your example inspires others to make a difference, person by person by person.

That said, old age is not all reminiscing. My grandparents are in their 80s, and they are some of the liveliest, most active, civic-minded people I know. They volunteer in their churches and their communities (driving people even older than themselves to church, knitting bonnets and blankets for infants in the hospital, running charity fundraisers, etc.). They also meet friends for meals, walks, card games, weekly trips to get their hair done, etc. so their social lives are quite fulfilling too.

Maybe the best thing about being young today is that we've got so much good research telling us what we need to do NOW to remain active and healthy into old age. Eat right, exercise, don't smoke. These things don't provide any guarantees, but they up your odds of a long and healthy life considerably. Don't shrug them off.
posted by vytae at 5:49 PM on July 5, 2007

Oooh! This is one of my favorite topics. I'm currently 37. The baby boomers will pave the way for us to age well - they'll be guinea pigs for all the new necessary and not-so-necessary medical advances. When I am 50, I anticipate that my pathetic desire to please everybody will fade away, and I will unapologetically kick ass. This is probably more of an issue for women than men - but men typically get to chill out more about their careers and become more relaxed and happier as they age. So you win too.

I highly recommend Passages and Pathfinders by Gail Sheehy. Her books were popular in the 70's and 80's and have a very positive view of aging. For some reason Pathfinders has no Amazon reviews, but it definitely changed the way I looked at aging. If you read one of her books, I'd read that one.

I am most excited about the personality aspects of aging. Carl Jung thought that people didn't really fully become themselves till they hit age 50. Here's Andrew Weil talking about that topic.

People fear the physical aspects of aging and envision a bleak future, dying alone in a nursing home, etc. I read recently that only something like 5% of people end up living in a nursing home now. "Aging in place" is a huge trend now, and likely to be the norm when we are older. That means staying at home, and getting services brought to your home, like visiting nurses, etc.

If you take decent care of yourself there is no reason for physical decline to be inevitable. Sure things won't work as well as they once did - but believe me, that starts at 30. That is not unique to old age.

It's all about taking care of yourself. Who knows, you might hit actuarial escape velocity.
posted by selfmedicating at 5:54 PM on July 5, 2007 [1 favorite]

I'm actually now encouraged by the political clout of the baby boomers as they head into retirement, as it will undoubtedly lay the groundwork for a much better society that I can retire in.

I wouldn't let your chances for happiness rest on this one. Behind that boomer political clout rests a huge sense of entitlement. Baby boomers couldn't kick older people out of the workplace fast enough, and they're already bragging about how they'll hold onto their jobs way longer. I think the more likely scenario is that by the time you get of the age, you're going to be dead tired from slave-laboring to subsidize them, and they will have drained resources and patience to the point of giving old age a really bad name.

I've got nothing against old people, really. The pre-boomer guys are pretty cool. But the force of what is about to hit retirement in terms of population size and level of expectation might urge you sooner, rather than later, to simplify your own expectations and prepare, prepare, prepare.
posted by troybob at 6:04 PM on July 5, 2007

(and believe it or not, the freedom you get from that kind of simplification is a really positive thing)
posted by troybob at 6:04 PM on July 5, 2007

Life is good. Cultivate your garden, enjoy the fruits of your labors. Learn something new every day, and learn something from everyone you meet. As you get older, crazy hormonal effects are moderated and you get the good without the bad. You will wonder, "How did I ever think rationally before?" With experience, you will find a deeper emotional connection and empathy with others, and will savor nuances of things that completely passed you by in earlier years.

Here's an experiment you can do. Imagine some pastime you really enjoy doing, right now. Now consider how you would have experience it at age 5, or age 14. It's possible that you simply wouldn't have understood what the heck was so important about it, right? Well, that scales up geometrically.
posted by Araucaria at 6:26 PM on July 5, 2007 [1 favorite]

When I turned thirty my mom told me that the best part of aging is that you stop caring about irrelevant things. When I look at her she has a level of grace and peace that I hope to acquire.

When I look at my parents, I see two people who are absolutely happy in the life they've built for themselves. They are healthy, financially secure through their own hard work, and most importantly loved. They are having a lovely retirement that full of good friends and grandkids.

Frankly, it looks pretty damn good from here.
posted by 26.2 at 6:40 PM on July 5, 2007 [1 favorite]

I'm 37. That's what I am -- it isn't good or bad, it just is. This is the face I was born with, this is the mind I was born with, 1970 is the year I was born. What is there to decide?

Continually evaluating these basic things about yourself as if you were a critic, or as if you had to make a decision about them, or as if you had any choice at all, will drive you crazy.

I'm sure I'll get slower and more sore over time, but honestly I have a lot of other things to think about and take care of and I suspect I always will. Why the hell would I spend time deciding whether my specific present quantity of old is the right amount? Well, neither should you.
posted by argybarg at 6:43 PM on July 5, 2007 [2 favorites]

Thanks for your replies, everyone.

As for the influence of the boomers, I'm fully aware of the entitlements problem (as I alluded to in my question). By saying I think they'll have a positive affect, I was more referring to such things as new laws/regulations, more funding for research, etc.

I'm also hopeful that we'll come to our senses about immigration when the Pat Buchanans of the world pass on. This is important for our society, not least of all because it means more people to support an aging population. WE NEED MORE PEOPLE! More people to pick fruit, more people to program computers, to do research, to give medial care, to start businesses, etc. Having more smart or hard working people in the coutry is a good thing!!

The more I think about it, I think the key to aging well is to be happy with where you are in life, wherever you are. To not have regrets. To not be in denial about your limitations. To not have a comb-over. For me, I've decided that means having a family, moving in to positions of leadership in my career and community, and staying in good physical shape.

I'm optimistic, and I don't think I'm naive.
posted by mpls2 at 6:50 PM on July 5, 2007

You may acquire better types of patience and impatience. You may attain a tolerant attitude.
You may appreciate beauty for what it is and character for what it is.
You will replace guessing with experience and judgment.

You will see that playing is essential to youth, and to steal a quote.... "You don't quit playing because you grow old; you grow old because you quit playing."

You'll maybe learn how important it is to try and reduce the number of enemies you make, and to make your ego subordinate. It is a stubborn beast that causes little but grief.

If you are a man, you'll learn to like kids and be more like a woman; if a woman, you may finally learn to appreciate what you disdained in men years ago... The sexes converge as they age.

If fate is particularly kind to you, you may learn to apologize to people, to think before you speak, to heal instead of hurt, and to consider thoughfully how you are going to spend your time before you die.

If you are particularly bright now, you'll realize that you are already old and already dead. By the time Alexander the Great was your age, he WAS dead! By comparison, none of us have done anything and few will.

You might get comfortable not being at the top. Everyone can't be the president of General Motors or Microsoft. The vast middle is where most of us dwell.

As for all the rest of the crap... sickness, death, technological advancement.... you can't predict it. You CAN go with the odds. You can build community when you are young, build enduring friendships, help the weak, take care of yourself, and do the things that youth allows, strive to be good, ethical, and kind. You'll have something worth looking back on when the inevitable arrives.
posted by FauxScot at 7:05 PM on July 5, 2007 [5 favorites]

FauxScot writes "By the time Alexander the Great was your age, he WAS dead!"

Poster's 28, Alexander died at 32 and 11 months.
posted by orthogonality at 7:15 PM on July 5, 2007

I'm actually now encouraged by the political clout of the baby boomers as they head into retirement, as it will undoubtedly lay the groundwork for a much better society that I can retire in.

I wouldn't count on it. Many retirees are notoriously stingy when it comes to funding things that don't directly benefit them. Funding public schools is the standard example. With an aging population in a school district, it's pretty damn tough to get bonds or tax increases passed.
posted by chrisamiller at 7:24 PM on July 5, 2007

I'm 28. ... What are some encouraging statistics?

Compound interest. Want to be a millionaire? Start saving now, and you will be.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:00 PM on July 5, 2007

mpls2: "It's better than not getting old.

See, I don't necessarily agree with that. To me, it's all about quality of life, not quantity.

You may find it easy to say that now but unless you are seriously mentally ill, you are probably never going to come to a time when you don't want to keep living. Seriously, you are not really going to shoot yourself when you hit fifty (or 60 or 70), you're just going to keep living the best life that you can. Chances are that you are going to have a lot of things to live for; a spouse, kids, grandkids, friends, an interesting career, hobbies, travel, or whatever. Yea, getting old sucks but it's always always going to be better than dying.

I just turned 43 this week and am really happier than I've ever been. I've mostly figured out how to live a pretty good life in the last five years or so, a skill that had eluded me for the previous 38 years. I love my wife, my job, my kid, we're buying an 1870s townhouse to restore next month. Live is good and I'm going to enjoy every minute (even the sucky parts) hopefully for another 43 years.
posted by octothorpe at 9:14 PM on July 5, 2007

The best thing about the boomers will be the medical advances they will push ahead of them. Researchers and pharmaceutical companies will continue working on advances that improve quality and quantity of life for that generation, and by the time you reach that age, the drugs will be off patent and cheap.
posted by happyturtle at 1:14 AM on July 6, 2007

When you are old, nobody is going to bug you about acting too mature. That and you don't have to worry about being drafted anymore.
posted by JJ86 at 5:30 AM on July 6, 2007

To me, it's all about quality of life, not quantity.

If you really feel that way, someday you can take up motorcycle jumping (I'm thinking the Grand Canyon here). Become famous as the oldster daredevil.
posted by yohko at 5:47 AM on July 6, 2007

I'm certainly not an expert on ageing but I have managed to live to be 52 (so far), raise 2 great young men (26 & 21) who I am proud to introduce to my friends, spend 6 years doing somthing totaly insane (submarines, what the heck was I thinking), and stay married for 26 years. I still enjoy everything I did 30 years ago with the possible exception of pot, which now just makes me tired and paranoid. I still ride a 1000cc sportsbike, go to work everyday as a software engineer and meet my buddies for beer after work on a regular basis. My taste in Scotch has certainly improved but to balance that out I can't move furniture near as well. There's nothing wrong with getting older, just dont let yourself get old, there's a difference.
posted by cmdnc0 at 11:28 AM on July 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

Statistically speaking, older people are happier. After you've been around the block a few times, the sort of troubles that would reduce a younger person to hysterics are now spilled milk.
posted by Phalene at 6:47 PM on July 6, 2007

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