MetroWest CARES, the Committee Addressing Resources for Eldercare Services, is coordinated by United Jewish Communities with support from the Healthcare Foundation of New Jersey; CARES brings together professionals and lay leaders from MetroWest agencies that provide services to older adults. Each month, a MetroWest CARES agency presents an educational column on an eldercare issue. This month’s column on how Baby Boomers are redefining older age is presented by Jewish Vocational Service.
As baby boomers reach the age of 60, they have redefined what that number means. As with everything the boomer generation has done, they are breaking “the rules” and turning maturity into the “best years of your life.” Boomers don’t think of themselves as getting older; they are more like a “Peter Pan generation” conflicted between the benefits of an AARP card that entitles them to discounts and remaining young forever. “I won’t grow up,” as Peter sang, sounds good, but as boomers know, the inevitable aches and pains of aging slow them down — we do grow up and the trick becomes doing it as gracefully as possible.
According to a 1996 survey, boomers believed old age began at age 79 — and at that time life expectancy was just over 76 years. As Smith and Clurman point out in Generation Ageless, boomers literally thought they’d die before they got old. “Boomers are not going to give up their aspirations for youthfulness,” Smith says. “It is the defining characteristic of the boomer sensibility.”
The fact that the boomers are “coming of old age” at a time when life expectancy is lengthening may pose some demographic and economic challenges. But many sociologists and gerontologists believe the generation that refuses to grow up can change — in healthy ways — how Americans think about aging.
As of 1998, it was reported that, as a generation, boomers had tended to avoid discussions and planning for their demise and avoided much long-term planning. However, beginning at least as early as that year, there has been a growing dialogue on how to manage aging and end-of-life issues as the generation ages. In particular, a number of commentators have argued that boomers are in a state of denial regarding their own aging and death and are leaving an undue economic burden on their children for their retirement and care.
Marc Freedman, CEO of Civic Ventures, a group that seeks to link seniors with job opportunities, states, “I’m convinced that 60 is the new 60 — that we’re actually inventing a new stage of life now between the end of midlife careers and true old age and retirement.”
What are some of the advantages to aging gracefully?
WISDOM and EXPERIENCE. There is a lot to be said for gaining life experiences. Though our children may not like to hear “when I was your age,” the truth is hindsight is 20/20. Sometimes the best way to his learn is through the mistakes you make. Michael Bloomberg says that he would not be where he is today if he had not been fired from Salomon Brothers. It opened other opportunities for him that led to his becoming a self-made billionaire and — in his more mature years — the opportunity to become a three-term mayor of New York City and a political player on the world stage.
Maturity can also bring a new FREEDOM, without the responsibilities of children, college tuition, and in some cases, through retirement or a reduced workload: the opportunity to travel and see the world; jump out of an airplane (as President George H. W. Bush likes to do on significant birthdays); learn a new skill; start a new hobby; take piano or voice lessons; start checking things off your “bucket list.” These all become easier to accomplish with the luxury of free time.
To learn more about the advantages of maturity, spend an hour or stay for the day at the Fourth Annual JVS Creative Maturity Expo, Redefining Life’s Potential, on Sunday, Nov. 21, at the Aidekman campus, Whippany. Featured speaker will be Mary Alice Williams, a highly acclaimed broadcast journalist and Emmy-winning former anchor of NBC’s Nightly News. Author of Quiet Triumphs, Williams will speak about “Grey Matter Matters: Make the Most of Your Experiences in Work and Play.”
Families and caregivers needing answers to broader eldercare questions or help with community resources can contact Elderlink — a portal to all MetroWest services for older adults and their families. Elderlink can be reached at 973-765-9050 or firstname.lastname@example.org.