Day by day, we each get a little older. Is that good or bad? It seems each of us must make that decision for ourselves. Whatever we decide makes no difference to time -- it just keeps marching on.
I am going to present some views and considerations for each of us to consider. At the time of Christ, historians tell us that the average life expectancy was estimated at 22 years. By the time of the Revolutionary War (1776), a child could expect to live to be about 35. By 1875 (137 years ago), life expectancy had risen to about 40 years. By the beginning of the 20th century, life expectancy had risen to about 47.
Today, it is near 80.
The figures I have from the U.S. Census show Ellis County had a total of 27,801 residents with the following breakdowns. There were 13,649 males and l4,152 females. There were 1,122 between 60 to 64 years of age; 1,884, 65 to 74 years of age; 1,534, 75 to 84 years of age -- a total of 4,186 people of 65 years of age and older. The date for these figures is 2008.
Census figures have suggested that more than 40 percent of the 65 and older population have passed the 75-year mark. In Ellis County, using the Census figures above, 55 percent of those 65 and older have passed the 75-year mark. According to projections, the over-85 age group is the fastest-growing segment of our society. Projections tell us by the year 2050, we can expect those 85 and-older to account for 20 million. At the turn of the 20th century, there were only about 2.5 million of that age.
In July 1983, the number of Americans over age 65 surpassed the number of teenagers. (What is this doing to Social Security?) Dr. Ken Dychtwald, a gerontologist (one who is trained in the scientific study of the process of aging and of the problems of aging) stated in his book, "Age Wave," that "We live in a youth-oriented -- perhaps even youth-obsessed -- nation. In thousands of ways, we have learned to like what's young and dislike what's old."
Dychtwald writes, "Our culture is deeply gerontuphobic. We have a fear of aging and a prejudice against the old that clouds all our perceptions about what it means to grow old in America."
He then describes six myths about aging and why they are wrong.
The first myth is "people over 65 are old." The age that was assigned to our Social Security (65 for retirement) became a transition point in our lives. He then points out, "There are neither biological nor psychological reasons to connect the number 65 to the onset of old age." He also said, "In the not-too-distant future, we will likely think of old age as setting in at around 90 or even 100."
The second myth was "Most older people are in poor health." When asked to guess what percent of the 65 and older were in hospitals, nursing homes, etc., the answer was usually 20 percent to 25 percent, when in reality it is 5 percent, about the same as the rest of the population. He said that "recent research from the National Institute on Aging suggests many of the problems of old age are not due to aging at all, but rather to improper care of the body over a lifetime."
The third myth is "older minds are not as bright as young minds."
"Of the 30 million (or more) Americans over the age of 65, only 10 percent show any significant loss of memory," Dychtwald writes, "and fewer that half of those show any serious mental impairment. ... In reality, there is not such disease as senility."
The fourth myth is "older people are unproductive." All one has to do is to study absences from the job, quality of work, attitudes, persistence and other such qualities to find this myth is very wrong. One has only to look at accomplishments of many older people, even into their 90s, to find great accomplishments.
The fifth myth is "older people are unattractive and sexless." This is also very wrong. Think of the number of people who have been sex symbols on TV and in advertisements, etc. A study done by a Dr. Bernard Starr and Marcella Weiner, both gerontologists in New York, found 91 percent of older people approve of unmarried or widowed older people having sexual relations, 97 percent like sex, 75 percent think sex feels as good as or better than it did when they were young, and 80 percent think sex is good for their health.
The last myth said "all older people are pretty much the same." In other words, if you have seen one old man, you have seen them all. People in later years become more, not less, diverse. Tomorrow's elders will be different, not only from one another, but also from today's elders as well. Consider the everyday changes in the world and what adjustments to it will mean.
Dychtwald's book was written a few years ago, but I think the myths are still with us, at least to some degree, even though they have been proven wrong. So, here are some worthwhile sayings that can help.
Somerset Maugham: "When I was young, I was amazed at Plutarch's statement that the elder Cato began at the age of 80 to learn Greek. I am amazed no longer.
"Old age is ready to undertake tasks that youth shirked because they would take too long."
Henry David Thoreau: "None are so old as those who have outlived enthusiasm."
Mark Twain: "Wrinkles should merely indicate where the smiles have been."
Douglas MacArthur: "I promise to keep on living as though I expected to live forever. Nobody grows old by merely living a number of years. People grow old only by deserting their ideals. Years may wrinkle the skin, but to give up interest wrinkles the soul."
* Quotations are taken from Dr. Sherwin Nuland's "The Art of Living."
Arris Johnson is a member of The Hays Daily News Generations advisory group.