The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

October 26, 2012

With medical advances, adults celebrating good health

Point Blank

By John Blankenship
Columnist

— It has often been referred to as a mystery, or an unsolved biological problem.

In truth, aging is a normal part of life.

And now we’re living longer and longer. With today’s medical advances, many adults are celebrating good health along with longevity.

With healthy lifestyle habits, plenty of exercise and activities, and strong social support, healthy seniors can look forward to personal fulfillment and a long life.

In fact, the United States is on the brink of a longevity revolution.

By 2030, the proportion of the U.S. population aged 65 and older will double to about 71 million older adults, or one in every five Americans.

The far-reaching implications of the increasing number of older Americans and their growing diversity will include unprecedented demands on public health, aging services, and the nation’s health care system.

Population aging is the increase in the number and proportion of older people in society. It has three possible causes: migration, longer life expectancy (decreased death rates), and decreased birth rate.

Population aging, to be sure, has a significant impact on society.

Young people tend to commit most crimes, and they are more likely to push for political and social change, to develop and adopt new technologies, and to need education.

Older people, meanwhile, have different requirements from society and government as opposed to young people, and frequently differing values as well.

Older people are far more likely to vote, and in many countries the young are forbidden from voting. Thus, the aged have comparatively more political influence in some nations.

-----

Contrary to their healthy living image, however, American “baby boomers” are “drifting” into old age with poor eating habits, to little exercise and decimated savings, according to the International Longevity Center (ILC).

As a result, America doesn’t have a healthy population moving into old age. This statistic amounts to a huge social change.

What’s more, an acute shortage of geriatricians and caregivers means society is ill-prepared for a massive wave of old age.

This raises a question: Is our society ready for the real challenge of baby boomer aging? For this reason, boomers (the generation born between the end of World War II and the early 1960s) are urged to plan ahead for old age by creating some kind of meaningful dialogue on aging with future support groups and taxpayers.

America isn’t alone on that score, however.

By 2015, there will be more people in Canada over the age of 65 than under age 15, according to our northern neighbor’s predictions, which also forecasts that the number of seniors will double during the next 25 years.

Consequently, boomers are encouraged to establish support systems by keeping engaged, active and socially connected through pleasurable and meaningful activities like volunteering, and try to live in communities that make this possible.

-----

Only in the most recent chapter of human history have people even lived long enough to grapple with old age, thanks largely to advances in medicine and public health that drastically reduce death rates from causes like infectious diseases.

Thus, aging as we know it today is a relatively new phenomenon. Western nations already have redistributed death from the young to the old, but this extension in life expectancy combined with falling fertility rates could mean a massive shift in the global age structure on the immediate horizon.

Historically, societies have had lots of young members and few old members. But in just a few years the equation is poised to flip in the massive populations of developing countries like China and India, as well as in North America.

As a result, humanity will experience a permanent shift in its age structure.

In America, we will no longer be a relatively young nation. Current life expectancy in the U.S. is approximately 80 years for women and about 74 for men.

The statistics speak for themselves.

Perhaps it’s time to overcome the prejudice against older people in this country.

The general perception of the elderly as worthless and burdensome members of our society needs to change.

Older people should be valued for their knowledge, experience and successes.

After all, life doesn’t have to go downhill at age 50; it should become a time to reap the rewards of previous successes, a time to enjoy maturity.

-----

Top o’ the morning!

— Blankenship is a columnist for The Register-Herald. E-mail: jabbb@suddenlink.net