If we were to stress less about getting older and assume we’ll be happy even as our bodies fail us, would we be more proactive about our old-old age? Would we, for example, be more likely to lobby for the coverage of longterm care – which Medicare does not cover and most younger-older folks chose not to think about because, well, who really wants to think about getting that old?
It was one of the questions raised during a workshop this week on “The Politics of Aging” by president of the National Coalition on Healthcare John Rother, who wondered whether our fear of losing our faculties might be why we’re not planning for our 90s; and it was touched again on by a new study showing that regardless of most factors – education, income, physical condition and optimistic temperament – the older we get, the happier we grow. If you’re a glass-half-full type hanging on to a blah job and end up at 90 in pain and homebound, you’ll still be happier in your future than you are now.
The Successful Aging Evaluation study was published in the December 7 online issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry. Researchers at UC San Diego and Stanford spoke with 1,000 people averaging 77 years old about their experiences. They found that although well-being increased with age pretty much across the board, people with better education and income, and more resilience, felt most positive about their aging.
“There is considerable discussion in public forums about the financial drain on the society due to rising costs of healthcare for older adults – what some people disparagingly label the ‘silver tsunami.’ But, successfully aging older adults can be a great resource for younger generations.”
Lead researcher Dilip V. Jeste, director of UC San Diego’s Stein Institute for Research on Aging and the current President of the American Psychiatric Association, said, “Perfect physical health is neither necessary nor sufficient. There is potential for enhancing successful aging by fostering resilience and treating or preventing depression.” He said that if doctors could rethink their pessimistic ideas about aging and see old people the way old people see themselves – as essentially happy – they might help to reduce ageism in America.
And if we can see our own aging in a more positive light, maybe we’ll be less inclined to be so near-sighted as we contemplate, or don’t contemplate, our own increasingly long futures.