Surviving Aging in a Graying America - (a societal look for surviving the crunch)

The title for this article asks two questions: can the elderly survive in a youth-oriented America? And does a healthy age exist in a growing older society?

America, a young and vibrant nation! Not necessarily so! We are young in years, 247 to be exact, but old with a prevailing and burgeoning aging population. We are, unquestionably, growing old. This can be validated by the following factors. One in particular is a major decline in the birth rate. This is, in part, attributed to (1) a delay in young couples getting married, (2) the high cost of living, (3) living in smaller dwellings, and (4) caring for an aging parent with complex medical issues. And let’s not forget an increase in a longer life expectancy, the rise of the baby boomer generation (1946-1964) and a vast growing elderly population, 65 and older.

The following statistics tend to strengthen my perception of a growing aging society.

  • Every day in America, there are 10,000 citizens who have turned 65 years of age. This adds up to approximately 4 million a year.
  • More Americans are living longer into their 80s and 90s and beyond.
  • The number of Americans who had reached 65 in 2020 totaled 17% of the general population. Since then, the number has dramatically increased.

These are but a few of the many statistics that illustrate the reality of a growing and expanding aging America.

The research reports “that by year 2034, a decade away, older Americans will retire in greater numbers.” The research also claims that “the number of expected retirees will be more than there are children.” Another prediction from the experts state that “those who are currently 85 and older (6.5 million) will more than double to 15 million by the year 2040.”

My reason for writing this article was not meant to alarm but rather to inform, educate and prepare for the evolution of an expanding, aging society and all of it complicated issues and ramifications, from an economic and political point of view.

Those who love and appreciate the elderly’s presence in their midst, should be celebrating a “coming of age,” so to speak, but not with fanfare, but concern for the help they will need. The question is, are we ready to help?

Here is some good news! We are living longer but there is more we can do if we are to continue thriving in a fast-moving and complicated world.

How we may thrive depends on what must be done to secure a future, often described in popular literature as those elusive “golden years.”

I have been giving much thought as to how we go about “unpacking” the numerous societal problems we have inherited over time. Let’s look at this problem through the lens of a cause-and-effect approach; the cause being not receiving any of the benefits and positive programs that society provides to an aging population. On the flipside, the effect is viewed as an unintended consequence to the health and viability of the elderly. For example: (1) a federal financial cutback to the numerous senior programs that were designed, specifically, to aid seniors. (2) social security payouts unnecessarily delayed due to congressional budgeting restrictions, and (3) moving a traditional retirement age of 65, and all of its benefits, to a later year.

If these possibilities, and they are only possibilities, were ever enacted into law, the results would be devastating for the aging population with long and lasting effects. I used the cause-and-effect approach as a way of showing how the elderly’s stance in society can, at times, be fragile.

And what about those who continue experiencing intractable pain and illness as they age? They will come to believe that life is a never ending grind and are forced to forgo a future of joy and celebration. Further, there are others who internalize their aging in negative ways that can result in what is known as a “stereotyped personality.” According to social scientists, a negative stereotyping can be clinically described as a “stereotyped embodiment.” It is characterized by how an individual demonstrates a persistent negative belief about being old and acts differently from those who present a sunnier disposition.

I draw your attention to another interesting concept that gerontologists call a “social connection.” When initiated, it can offer several ways for supporting an elderly individual who is seeking a life filled with healthy experiences. If this is so, then it becomes our responsibility, as society, to help fulfill those goals.

The human brain hasn’t changed all that much since tribal days. We are still hard-wired and need someone around “who has our backs.” Social connection is a feeling that is vital to our most basic human needs and an effective way of softening the danger signals. That is why it feels good to belong to a cohesive group. Social connection can feel good when it is connecting with others, when giving or receiving advice, when borrowing or lending something, when working together or sharing tears, feeling understood.

It has been documented that people who have close relationships with others and allow for their mutual support, have better health, whereas those who are socially isolated and constantly stressed can show an accelerated decline in their physical and mental status.

There is a culture that practices the “secrets” of social connection. They are the Danish people. Studies reveal that the Danes are the happiest people in the world. A great deal of credit goes to their practice of HYGEE, a philosophy known for its quality of coziness, feeling warm, comfortable and safe. According to the Danes, hygee is about doing simple things like candle making and spending time with family and community. The philosophy of hygee can also be understood as a comfortable happiness and a keen sense of compassion. Whenever someone asks for help, without hesitation, that individual or community will instantly receive it. This is what the Danes call “with an open and extended hand.” I interpret this to mean, without asking or expecting remuneration in return. Literally, a good deed!

I began writing this article with several statistics that predict we are headed toward an uncertain future with major changes as we all age. We are living longer. The question, however, that keeps cropping up is, how should we live? One answer has to do with relinquishing a long-held belief by many that declares how the so-called ravage of old age is a punishment from heaven above. It comes from our own personal lifestyle choices and of our own making.

“Oldness” is a state of mind which can be proven scientifically. It’s defined by our outer standards as with chronological age and the personal judgments we make. We can set aside the term “oldness” for later in life. We can also choose to regard it as desirable or as a dreadful situation. Ot we can just try to forget about it. I personally must leave that path for others to follow.

Here are several “Be” thoughts for your consideration.

  1. Be ready to share both joy and sorrow as you age with others as an important aspect of life. Knowing you are not alone makes difficult times a little easier to bear.
  2. Believe in optimism, compassion, serenity with a smile to friends and loved ones, with a helping hand to those less fortunate.
  3. Be alert to serious issues that arise and recognize the need for practicing healthy maintenance against unwanted illnesses. How? By acting quickly and preventively. Remember, you are the only one who can do a great deal to decrease the risks.

I leave the question for you. Can the elderly survive in a youth-oriented America? The ideas, thoughts and statistics I have presented are but a brief projection, in the not-too-distant future, of what aging may look like, if not already! I want to recommend the following:

  • Read further on the subject of aging (suggested reference: Aging with a Plan, 2nd ed, by Sharona Hoffman).
  • Develop a fresh perspective on the aging process.

Both of the above comments can offer a deep appreciation for what it can mean to grow old in this fast-moving aging America.

Quotable Quote: “Minds are like parachutes, they only function when open.”
Share this post:

Comments on "Surviving Aging in a Graying America - (a societal look for surviving the crunch)"

Comments 0-5 of 0

Please login to comment