Old age needs a public relations specialist. It’s time to rebrand, to market this part of life as just that — a natural phase– to be celebrated rather than feared, as a time of privilege rather than something to endure, a time worthy of respect, and even honor.
That is coming, because the baby boomers are on their way, in waves. And, just as many of them have gone through their adult life accompanied by trainers, life coaches, self-help books and therapists, they are approaching old age with a coterie of academic and professional specialists with programs to offset every part the aging process. Let us hope they come up with a new name. The generation before mine told us in no uncertain terms what society could do with “the golden years”. I find “senior” as precious as “junior”, and don’t want to be either. Perhaps we will be known as the finials.
In the meantime, my generation is already here and we would like a little respect please. We lived through an amazing century and our accomplishments in those years, from creating an airplane to fly through the clouds to storing all our information in the cloud, are the foundation of the future. We have been though wars, the depression, the sexual and the technological revolutions: We have experience and wisdom to share.
Who are we? We’re you, with the added on value of more birthdays. Like you, we are not a monolithic group. There is no unilateral “We” in old age. We are the medically frail and the strong; the curious and the bored; the strivers and the contented ones. Some of us are on scooters, walkers or in wheelchairs; others are tap-dancing and stretching on yoga mats. One in three of us over the age of 80 is in a stage of dementia. One of the other two is caring for that one.
Many of us are “downsizing”, choosing assisted living, moving in with our children. Depending on the ability to function independently, some will go to a nursing home. Too many are homeless, lost to society and too often, abandoned by it.
We are as individual now, as we were in our younger days. The bullies are still bullies, the rude are still rude, the bossy are still bossy, the caregivers are still giving. Only, in some cases, more so. Some want to live beyond a hundred, others are content to accept whatever fate offers, opting for no more tests or intrusive procedures. We are not curiosities, specimens to be designated as “cute” or “amazing”, because we can walk, talk, dance, think, fall in love, have sex. We are in our old age, not our infancy.
Each oI us will decide when we are willing to embrace the label “old”. Something will trigger that — a loss, health, weariness. For me, it was the number, 85, with the sharp realization that time is now truly finite. If there are things I want to do, say, write, amends to make, I had better get on with it.
I see this last stage of my life as the true coming of age. Forget the bar and bat- mitvahs, sweet sixteen, the years of getting the vote, the right to buy alcohol, being eligible for military service or any of the landmark birthdays. This — old age — is maturity. It is a marriage of aches and pains, loss and heartaches with possibilities, a true sense of the meaning of time, and, perhaps above all, an understanding of who we truly are, beyond the many labels we have worn throughout our lives.
Who are we? Cherish us, for we are you, in a not so far off future.
Joan Sutton Straus’ book, The Alzheimer’s Diary, one woman’s experience from caregiver to widow, is available at your favorite on-line book store. All profits from the sale of the book go to The Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation.