In the bones of the beholder

Published on Thu, Feb 6, 2003 by Marian Yunghans

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In the bones of the beholder

By Marian Yunghans

Most Americans have no desire to live to 100 and baby boomers are leery about even reaching the age of 65, yet today�s seniors see good things in making it to age 100.

These conflicting statements came out in an American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) survey on societal views on aging. What is considered �old age?� Young adults, ages 18 � 24 considered age 58 as �old.� Those 55 said it started at 74 and all others considered 69 as �old.� This is rather startling in light of the Census Bureau projection that one in nine baby boomers will live into their late 90s and that one in 26 will reach age 100.

The major concern of growing old was declining health. Dr. Thomas Peris of Harvard Medical School believes that people may not want to live to be 100 because they aren�t prepared for old age. Americans have poor eating and exercise habits and as a result are living 10 years less than �our average set of genes would allow us to.�

Aging is a time when the body reveals its wear and tear. The old saw that �you are as young as you feel� has a great deal of truth in it. As people age, in the absence of serious diseases or crushing problems, they �feel� just about like they did when they were young. The essence of a person does not change, the body does. Living to be 100 doesn�t mean arriving in poor health. In fact, one must stay healthy most of one�s life in order to live to be 100. Chronic illness is not an inevitable consequence of growing old. Most Americans are optimistic that life will be better for the typical 80-year-old in 2050 and that medical advances will lead to cures for cancer, AIDS and Alzheimer�s disease.

Many people are leery of what befalls them if they live past 80. The fear of losing their independence and ability to fend for themselves is overwhelming. Most Americans don�t realize that the majority of seniors older than 65 live independently with fewer than five percent in nursing homes. Research shows we all have the tools to live longer lives and to experience faster deaths. The fear of growing old may well be based upon a youth-oriented society. Our economy is based on young stars and young entrepreneurs. No one wants to be left out of the mainstream in fear of not knowing where he or she will find a niche (if at all) once they are older.

Another concern of reaching old age is fear of the lack of money. Today when people retire at 65, they can look forward to 15 or 20 years without a job, living on pensions, Social Security and savings. Social Security was never designed to be the complete answer to retirement income, yet half of Americans are not covered by private pension plans.

Baby boomers are not saving enough money. The national rate of savings is barely five percent with the oldest boomers saving a scant one-third of what would be needed to maintain their standard of living in retirement. Yet they have no intention of �living down,� rather they expect to �live-it-up.� They are more self-indulgent than their parents and they don�t expect to change. In the AARP survey they overwhelmingly stated that they will need more money in retirement to continue their self-indulgent lifestyle.

At upper-income levels, boomers talked about working part-time in retirement for fun and fulfillment. At lower-income levels, nearly half expect to continue working to survive � and never retire at all. A clash has developed between boomer expectations and current retirement practices. It would be safe to say that old age is not for sissies.

What is certain is that in the future we will have legions of the elderly dominating Americans economics, politics and culture. As the Beatles once sang, �Will they still need me, will you still feed me when I�m 64?�

Get yourself some wheels

Miracle on Wheels makes available power (electric) wheelchairs to non-ambulatory senior citizens (65 years old and up) usually at no out-of-pocket expense if they qualify. No deposit is required.

The electric wheelchairs are provided to those who cannot walk and cannot self-propel a manual wheelchair in their home or independent living quarters and who meet the additional qualifications of the program. This service may also be available to the permanently disabled of any age.

Please call 1-800-749-8778 or visit our website at for more information on the details of this program.

The Miracle on Wheels program�s main purpose and goal is to develop public awareness that there are assistance options that allow senior citizens (as well as permanently disabled) to remain independent in their own homes. Without this awareness and assistance, the family may prematurely choose a nursing home, or make an unnecessary retail purchase on power mobility equipment.