By Dr. Glenda Smith
Have you noticed lately? There are too many of them to count… “Baby Boomers.”
Nearly 78 million of them can be found in this country, to be exact. This figure is not to be taken lightly, as it constitutes about one quarter of the nation’s total population.
Baby Boomers come in all sizes, shapes, colors and psychological make-ups. The one common characteristic among all members is that they were born between 1946 and 1964 – post World War II.
Who are they? “Baby Boomers” – often referred to as the S Generation or the Sandwich Generation — play many important roles. Their present age range is from the mid-40s to the mid-60s. Besides the communality of age, many feel that Baby Boomers carry a host of other characteristics, which distinguish them from their predecessors. Some of their traits include:
- Members tend to live longer;
- Members begin families later in life;
- Members are often interwoven in a unique intergenerational family structure. They are parenting their own children while also parenting their aging parents;
- With this complex mix, they are also trying to satisfy their own set of spiritual, emotional and financial needs as well as those of a spouse.
If the variables mentioned are not enough to manage, baby boomers find themselves locked into an era in which political uncertainty prevails; the fear and devastation of global warfare dominate our consciousness; and economic instability is the hue and cry of the day. For many, these conditions tend to create a panacea of ills leading to states of anxiety and depression. Some psychologists call it the “midlife crisis.”
Despite these phenomena, we clearly have in our midst the makings of a rare breed
Age-ism and the quest for longevity
America has been accused of being too focused on youth — to the extent that “youthfulness” has almost become a culture in and of itself.
The fact is, older adults have built the nation; run it reasonably well; and continue to control most of it, economically and politically. This does not seem, however, to daunt the “youth fever” which abounds in our society. We see this played out daily on television, in movies, advertising, and other media.
So what is the result? We dye our hair, flaunt the most frisky fashion fads, spend ge-zillions of dollars on cosmetics and health spas while we starve ourselves trying to get to size four. Sound familiar? Many conclude that baby boomers, in particular, have declared a war on aging. They will not grow old gracefully. They will not grow old at all.
Baby Boomers wage war
This is not to say that all of their efforts lean toward silliness. Many boomers (and other age groups) also strive toward longevity by leading a healthy life style. They eat healthy meals, rest adequately, exercise regularly, and make regular visits to their physicians for a check-up. In either case, the end goal is to live a long and healthy life and to enjoy the journey.
Then there is there is the ‘ol’ demon’ stress and related burn-out, which many people suffer as they strive to maintain the status quo in our fast-paced society . The weapons waged against stress vary from vitamins, exercise, jogging and vacations to prayer, meditation and yoga. And if all else fails, there is Prozac.
Baby Boomers are winning
Nonetheless, the nation is getting older. The age group 65 and above is one of the fastest growing in the American population according to population statistics.
In a recent broadcast of World News Tonight, Diane Sawyer reported that medical scientists have now developed a new test to determine a person’s level of aging. For about $700, a person can take a simple blood test which will indicate when he/she will die. The blood test will show if part of a cell called the telomeres is shorter than normal.
It appears that smoking, drinking alcohol and stress may shorten the length of the telomeres. One can lengthen them with the practice of good health habits.
Interestingly, most people surveyed did not wish to take the test. At present, the average life expectancy for Americans is about 82 years, give or take. The average life span for men in our culture is about 81 years, while women fare better. Most women can expect to live to about 83 years old.
We also note that there is a marked increase in the number of centenarians in our society (persons age 100 or beyond). Compared to just a few decades ago, these findings are astonishing.
Medical scientists envision that the average life span is soon likely to extend to 120 to 125 years. With the advances in medical technology, access to “super drugs,” and the nation’s focus on healthy living, this level of longevity is indeed a possibility.
Many are concerned as to the extent to which we can handle increased longevity. Real problems can arise with aging. Not only are there social problems — can I depend on Social Security? Will I have to go to a nursing home? Will Medicare and Medicaid hold out?
But the real question may be, are we living well or simply living longer?
Donna Henes is the author of The Queen of My Self: Stepping into Sovereignty in Midlife. She offers counseling and upbeat, practical and ceremonial guidance for individual women and groups who want to enjoy the fruits of an enriching, influential, purposeful, passionate, and powerful maturity. Consult the MIDLIFE MIDWIFE™
The Queen welcomes questions concerning all issues of interest to women in their mature years. Send your inquiries to email@example.com.