The myth of “healthy aging”?


Now that the first wave of baby boomers is solidly past 60, the reality of this aging process is quickly becoming evident. It is always fascinating to me to watch the TV commercials (if you can get past the political ads) at certain times of the day and see the bombardment of ads that tout this pill or that treatment which will fight aging. To date, no one has seemed to be able to defeat this process, or even really control it. Healthy aging may be more of an attitude than an application; more mental than medicinal.

Andrew Weil hinted at this in his book Healthy Aging: A Lifelong Guide to Your Well-Being, when he cautioned us that we move toward decline and death and that the best we can do is “to accept this inevitability and try to adapt to it, to be in the best health we can at any age”.

Fast forward almost a decade and we have a slightly different “take” on this idea of healthy aging. A recent book by Susan Jacoby — Never Say Die: The Myth and Marketing of the New Old Age — pulls no punches in her very useful and powerful book about the healthy aging conversation.

Rabbi Richard Address
Rabbi Richard F. Address, D. Min.

Jacoby points out that “Rosy predictions about the future of the wellderly depend on the disingenuous practice of lumping together all people over sixty-five”.  Jacoby stresses the fact that there appears to be a barrier, a border beyond which we enter a land that is fraught with danger. The border seems to be around the age eighty-five. “In real old age”, she writes, “as opposed to fantasyland, most people who live beyond their mid-eighties can expect a period of extended disability before they die…anyone who lives beyond the age of eighty-five has about a 50-50 chance of winding up in a nursing home–just as he or she has a 50-50 chance of developing dementia”.

Jacoby makes several points on the impact on health care and entitlements that baby boomers are now beginning to make and reminds people that wisdom and age do not always equate. In fact, she makes a big point that we age as we live.

The message from much of this is again a focus on the importance of the spiritual aspect of how we age. It is again about our own search for meaning, in spite of or in addition to the medical and physical issues we face. That is going to be the real challenge of baby boomer aging.

Rabbi Richard F Address, D.Min

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