By Leah S. Dunaief
A dear friend of mine just celebrated her 65th birthday this week, and she regards it as a significant number. “How did I get here so fast?” she asks. She also recognizes that she is getting older. That might even be a little scary.
Yes, she is now covered by Medicare. This is both an asset and a shock. When she looks at her new Medicare card, she wonders how this could be. Is she really now eligible for Medicare? Her grandmother was on Medicare, surely not her. But there is her name; the reality is undeniable.
“Well,” she silently acknowledges, “it’s good to have that coverage.” But the sight still stings a bit.
Part of her response is the awareness that she is aging, that she has entered the first phase of the three-part delineation of older age. There is the young-older, from 65-75; then the middle-older, from 75-85; and the third segment, 85-95. Whoever decides and names these demographic groupings seems to have been unable to imagine any group beyond that point. Maybe it should be called “The Beyond Expectations Group.”
With her new realization comes a vow to concentrate on her health and to make the ensuing years hardy ones. She has vowed to pay more attention to her diet, to make better choices concerning what she eats. More fruits and veggies are in store. But no amount of blueberries and kale can eliminate aging. She has now followed through with her long-held intention to work with a trainer. And she is getting a new mattress to help her sleep better.
My friend is doing something helpful for herself. She is turning concerns of aging and the rapid passing of time into better health actions so as to control how she wants to age. Life for her will no longer be just on automatic pilot.
Although there are more older people in America than ever before, aging is fearful for 87% of the population, according to a survey of those turning 65 conducted by Pfizer. It’s called FOGO — fear of getting old.
Why are people afraid of getting old?
There are a number of reasons. Aging can diminish employment prospects. It is a given that older employees earn more than younger newcomers, and while it is illegal to discriminate by age, we all know that such bias exists. It is no wonder, then, that plastic surgeons do face-lifts to combat wrinkles and laugh lines, adjust sagging necks and erase any other evidence of aging. And it is not only women who undergo such procedures. Many men feel the need to blunt evidence of having lived into and past middle age.
People fear losses: of physical ability, of their good looks, of sufficient finances, of memory, of loved ones and consequently of being lonely, and even of their health shortly to be burdened with chronic diseases. Underlying all this is the fear of losing independence.
Interestingly, only 10% in the survey said they were afraid of dying.
Other cultures respect and may even venerate older members of society. Aging can bring people an enhanced sense of gratitude, a calmer demeanor, an awareness of what is truly important, greater ability to resolve conflicts and even an inclination toward forgiveness. Elders are assumed to have accumulated some wisdom just from more years of living and are respected for that.
Of one thing, my friend is sure. When we consider milestones, it seems like the time between them is little more than the blink of an eye. She clearly remembers the details of her Sweet 16 party, the fun of turning 21, her graduation from law school and now suddenly, to be in the Final Frontier is one swift stroke of time after the other. Blink and you are 65. And along comes the recognition that the future is no longer assured.
My friend does not want to go quietly into older age.