Over one-sixth of our country is made up of people over 65. I’m a member of that group. And I am one of the lucky ones. I have a pension, social security and retirement investments that give me an income that matches my working income. I have Medicare along with health insurance from my former employer that includes hearing, sight, mental and dental health benefits. I have reasonably priced long-term care insurance. (I told you, I am lucky.) I am totally ambulatory, which allows me to travel and enjoy time with friends and family. The grandchild of Polish immigrants, the daughter of a car salesman and bakery store clerk, I worked for that luck. I am aware that the accident of being born white erased barriers that would have made it much harder for me to achieve any of my blessings.
I asked CHATGPT to give me some common myths about aging. (One of them is that older people don’t know squat about technology.) Here are a few:
All old people are the same. There isn’t a magic age when people become homogenized. We have different talents, education, history, skills, colors, sexual desires and values. That doesn’t change. Some of us are mean and grumpy, and some are kind and gracious. Most are somewhere in the middle.
The basic human needs of older people are different from those of younger people. We need to eat, drink, and move to stay alive. We need some social interactions, some need more than others. We need purpose to be happy. We find purpose in different ways.
Older people aren’t interested in the outside world. If we were curious when we were young, we remain interested as we age. Seniors nearly always turn out to vote at a higher rate than younger groups. The older you get, the more likely you are to vote.
Older people contribute little to society. Sixty-eight percent of the U.S. senators are over 60. You don’t have to be running the country to be contributing. Many seniors are very involved with their grandchildren, saving their children thousands of dollars. Many provide volunteer services in their community. I spend at least 20 hours a week volunteering with the local League of Women Voters — 40+ hours during COVID and around elections.
As you age, you get more set in your ways. That really doesn’t change with time very much. It’s no harder to find stubborn youth than stubborn elders.
Mental and physical deterioration are inevitable in old age. It’s true that our bodies wear out as we get older. The extent of that is greatly influenced by wealth, attitude, lifestyle, access to healthcare and genetics.
Older people are impoverished. Some (10.3%) are, but the rate is actually less than people between 18 and 64 (10.5%). This can be attributed to social security. The poverty rate for seniors is increasing because fewer people are retiring with pensions today.
Older people are not interested in sex or intimacy. That’s not true. I’m not going into details.
Older people can’t make good decisions about important issues. That doesn’t change much. We get some things right and some things wrong, as always.
Older people are wiser. Some are and some aren’t. I think I’ve learned a few things, and I know that I have a lot to learn.
Common myths are mythical, and not the kind of myth that leads you to understand life. Believing them leads to bias and prejudice. They lead to politicians saying, “We need a younger workforce” (or add any noun), as if experience doesn’t amount to anything. (I can’t name names because of my position with the League, but I don’t live that far from some people making those comments.) I don’t mean to imply that old and experienced is preferable to young and creative. We need everyone at the table.
Society is never made better when the value of an individual is seen as diminished or increased by age, race, color, gender, weight, physical ability, sexuality, religion or any other characteristic that isn’t germane to a task.
I am now 76 years old, somewhat past the age when people say, “Oh, you look good ... ” and add, “for your age.” I do miss my youth. I miss perfect and taut skin. I miss needed recovery days when I stay out late. I miss physical prowess. I miss my senses being at their peak. (Although they are all in working order, thank you.) How great it would be to have all the trappings of youth while knowing what I know now. Here’s what I know: Love is the answer, and love means being kind to the person in front of you. The more each of us reflects that direction, the happier we shall all be.
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