A quick walk down memory lane and what that means for all of us right here, right now.
Turning sixty-four used to be SO OLD. Now we’re getting much older, much younger, and heading into a restless future where turning sixty anything takes on new meaning. This article speaks to that challenge.
I was barely into my teens when I first heard these lyrics:
When I get older losing my hair
Many years from now
Will you still be sending me a Valentine
Birthday greetings bottle of wine
If I’d been out till quarter to three
Would you lock the door
Will you still need me, will you still feed me
When I’m sixty-four….
-When I’m Sixty-Four, Paul McCartney
Paul McCartney wrote the melody to this song in 1956 when he was fourteen. I was three.
The song came out on the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album when I was fourteen.
He’s 79. I’m almost 69. I would posit that he’s got a bit more in his retirement bank than I do.
But I’m ahead of myself.
I grew up in the small Central Florida town of Winter Haven. On the main drag, the Ritz Theatre was our main source of entertainment (other than water skiing, that is). A year after Sgt Pepper’s came out, so did 2001: A Space Odyssey. I remember doing the math after I came outside the Ritz into the blinding Florida sunshine… just before a summer shower drenched me on the way to Mom’s car.
I will be 48 in 2001. THAT IS SO OLD!!!!!
I’ve already sped by 64 and am barrelling towards seventy. I’ll bet a fair few of you can relate.
Not in a million, billion, quadrillion years could I have imagined, that Florida kid, that I would be an international adventure athlete, starting at sixty. Or alone at this age, all my family long gone. Part of that is exciting. Another part of it is pretty scary.
By the same token, to circle back to Sir Paul’s lyrics, I seriously doubt that at fourteen, he might have imagined the career he has enjoyed.
When I head back to my high school reunions, which are a great deal like getting a tetanus shot every five to ten years (painful, but necessary), I am reminded of this song. It brings up a great deal, in part just because my entire class-what’s left of it, thanks- is a big mixed bag of how to handle having made it this far, and facing down seventy.
It isn’t very pretty, for the most part.
We will have very different “retirements.” I won’t be able to. He will. And that, kindly, is where I’m headed.
Years ago, when McCartney and I were still kids (that sounds like we were best buds. Um no.) the idea of making it to sixty four, at best, was a bit of a pipe dream. Decades ago. smoking killed off lots of us before we hit sixty-five, which was part of the reason the early sixties were retirement age. The insurance folks could count on two, mebbe three more years and we’d have smoked ourselves to death. Since that time, of course, even allowing for the recent drops in life expectancy, Sir Paul has already passed his, and I am likely to live a lot longer than that.
The reasons vary, and you likely know most of them. I want to touch on some other issues which were brought to my attention today by a kind reader, Hpickens, who penned me the kind of kind comment which warms the cockles. Not just that, he fired me a New York Times article which I am going to use for part of this piece.
HPickens is like many of us and far, far, far too many Millennials and GenXers stuck with the ridiculously heavy burden of caring for elderly folk while in many cases also their own families. This isn’t to say this is a new thing. What is new is the lack of decent income, housing, healthcare, savings, oh the list goes on. To be so burdened when you might prefer to focus on your own life, your family and bringing your kids, as well as planning for your own later days, is disastrous. I’ll return to that in a sec.
Here then is that Times article:
From the article:
Consider the demographics. In 2018, there were 52.4 million Americans age 65 or older and 6.5 million 85 or older. By 2040, those numbers will hit 80.8 million and 14.4 million, respectively. From now until 2030, an average of 10,000 baby boomers will turn 65 every day. Already, demand for care dwarfs supply. The Medicaid waiting list for home-based assistance has an average wait time of more than three years.
Next, factor in the financial reality of seniors. Nearly half of U.S. households headed by someone 55 or older have no retirement savings, according to 2016 data. Many Americans over 65 face trying to get by on Social Security income alone, which provides an average retirement benefit of $18,516 a year.
The gloomy reality is that most seniors will require long-term care. Almost 70 percent of Americans turning 65 today are expected to need extended services and supports at some point. About 20 percent will need care for more than five years. Despite this, the majority of those age 40 and over have done no planning for their long-term care, according to a 2021 survey by the AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.
Many of you are already living this. As a veteran my future is a bit different. At least I have a disability income. If I need one there is, for now, a place for me to be housed should that day come. As a single woman without a family, there is nobody I can lean on, cajole, barter or brow-beat into caring for my aging butt. I’m hardly alone.
Kindly, if you add color to the mix, and this deserves a mention here, the future is horrifically gloomy financially. The widespread inability to establish any kind of savings, poor health outcomes and a slew of other issues which are too numerous to list here make Aging While Black or Hispanic in particular, very difficult futures ahead.
It isn’t just that we’d like financial options. When I sold my house in Denver I immediately slapped as much as I could into long-term plans. It isn’t much, but it’s something.
Okay, okay, for me long-term is twenty minutes. But still. I can’t touch that cash for at least a decade or more, by which it will have grown. So will housing prices, inflation, and a whole lot more. That said, at least I did that. Not much, but I’m lucky to have anything with the boyfriends I’ve supported. But I digress.
HPickens was pointing out the reality for all of us as we age. The future is bleak indeed if we continue to take such crap care of ourselves. The Times article points out that you and I cannot count on Medicare or Social Security. We can’t. Nor can our kids or their kids. So while all of us everyday folks struggle to figure out how to care for our bank accounts, I would kindly like to point out that the most important bank account that is increasingly on fumes is the aging body.
If there is a single reason I harp on health and fitness especially past fifty it’s this: it’s bad enough that the economy is bad enough. It’s also pretty lousy that we’re dealing with so many stressors, too many to list. But to not take the best possible care of our bodies, the one single thing that we own all to ourselves, which would give us at least a fighting chance to better surf the tsunamis of a fast-changing world, makes no sense to me.
Let me make my argument for attending to our health.
This Vox article outlines the even grimmer reality that so many juggle, and that is our own futures if we have kin who can’t care for themselves. Could be disability, Covid, bad luck or ill health.
From the article:
An estimated 47.9 million adults in the United States — a staggering 19.3 percent — provide informal care to an adult with physical or mental health needs. This unpaid work, which includes everything from trips to the doctor to feeding, bathing, and toileting, has been valued at $470 billion per year, equivalent to three-quarters of the entire budget of Medicaid. Even in the best of times, the vast majority of this work is invisible and under-supported, leaving millions of caregivers struggling in silence. The Covid-19 pandemic pushed many caregivers into crisis.
And this, about the woman profiled in the article who had to give up nearly everything to care for her Nana who had developed dementia:
Scott has since moved back to Jacksonville, Florida, where she has a house to herself and is working again. Still, she is recovering from the grueling stretch of caregiving and processing the loss of her grandmother. “I could be on a webinar or on the phone, and people don’t even know that tears are coming down my face,” she said. “I know I’m still traumatized from it.” (author bolded)
This piece is for all of us. For how you and I manage our health care RIGHT NOW is part of what is making this future so terrifying not only for us, but also for those who love us. At some point they may not be able to afford caring for us, and what then? That is a terrible decision too many are facing right now.
And then there’s this. Boomer Anti-Ageism expert Ashton Applewhite wrote, and this was before Covid (Pre-C):
The catalyst for the project was learning that the percentage of Americans in nursing homes is 2.5% and dropping, and I thought it was at least 30%.
Read the whole thing here:
While Pre-C, that might have been true, the stunning realities of what we are just now beginning to see in long-haul Covid sufferers begs a very different future. Once energetic and healthy folks have what may be permanent disabilities, and new research indicates that the loss of smell might also be related to or indicative of future dementia. Since so many people are affected, and of all ages, the potential for a tsunami wave of disabled folks with all manner of ailments including dementia is very real. The pressure on an already-taxed healthcare system looks pretty serious.
From the article:
In addition to the respiratory and gastrointestinal symptoms that accompany COVID-19, many people with the virus experience short- and/or long-term neuropsychiatric symptoms, including loss of smell and taste, and cognitive and attention deficits, known as “brain fog.” For some, these neurological symptoms persist, and researchers are working to understand the mechanisms by which this brain dysfunction occurs, and what that means for cognitive health long term.
Already the ADA is responding to thousands of questions about how to file for disability with long haul Covid, which means their care becomes important in the future.
And if I may, the number of folks putting money into the Social Security System is already nowhere near enough. Now we’re looking at a great many of those previously productive workers (taxpayers) who have to go on disability, further stretching the system. Pardon the aside, while too-rich assholes race to the moon and buy yet bigger yachts, but don’t get me started.
If I may, that’s right about when we found out a)how bad nursing homes really are; b) how expensive that lousy care really is; c) how much abuse goes on with such vulnerable populations. Sounds like a great place to go, right?
Sure Sparky. Right about the time health care workers, burnt out from Covid, tired of being attacked and targeted by deniers as they drag their aching asses home after endless stretches of trying to save people dying of Covid, are calling it quits in droves:
From the article:
In wrenching interviews, nurses, doctors, technicians — and even administrative staff and dental hygienists who haven’t directly treated covid-19 patients — explained the impulse to quit and the emotional wreckage the pandemic has left in their lives.
It’s not just the danger they’ve endured, they say. Many talked about the betrayal and hypocrisy they feel from the public they have sacrificed so much to save — their clapping and hero-worship one day, then refusal to wear masks and take basic precautions the next, even if it would spare health workers the trauma of losing yet another patient.
And because I like to go sideways and make yet another point that is indeed relevant, many of those folks who are still willing to wipe our butts, clean up our vomit and patiently help their patients cope with life are immigrants. Whom we are trying awfully hard to keep out right about the time we damned well need them the most.
From that paper:
As the US elderly population grows, health care workforce shortages (which already limit care) are expected to increase in the coming decades. The Institute of Medicine projects that 3.5 million additional health care workers will be needed by 2030.1 Currently, immigrants fill health care workforce shortages,2,3 providing disproportionate amounts of care overall and particularly for key shortage roles such as rural physicians.4,5 Immigrant health care workers are, on average, more educated than US-born workers,2 and they often work at lower professional levels in the US because of lack of certification or licensure. They work nontraditional shifts that are hard to fill (such as nights and weekends),6 and they bring linguistic and cultural diversity to address the needs of patients of varied ethnic backgrounds.7,8 (author bolded)
The size of the elderly population is expected to double by 2050,1 raising concern that long-term care workers will be in particularly short supply. Direct care workers — nursing, psychiatric, home health, and personal care aides — are the primary providers of paid hands-on care for more than thirteen million elderly and disabled Americans.9 These workers help elderly and disabled people live at home1,9,10 (the preferred setting for most people) by providing assistance with daily tasks such as bathing, dressing, and eating. They also help elderly and disabled people in nursing or psychiatric facilities when living at home is not possible and during transitions home after hospitalization.
That paper was written Pre-C. Now we are looking at a whole other post-pandemic ball game.
Who will still feed you when you’re sixty-four? Eighty-four? Ninety-four?
I can understand feeling so bleak about our prospects that it’s party down until the sun blows up. But we don’t know what we don’t know. There is some kind of future ahead, and we’re not going to manage it very well. Not if we’re so ill, so disabled, so crippled from poor choices that we desperately need care that we can’t afford, that the government can’t provide, that our families are too broke and/or exhausted to give us, or any one of a number of deeply unhappy scenarios.
This does not have to be our collective future.
While I will absolutely acknowledge the horrific futures for those dealing with long-haul Covid, a bowling ball which came roaring out of the blue, a “flu” that some FB dimwit called it (until it’s her turn, at least), that’s a whole other story. That is going to leave millions of us all over the world far sicker, and dealing with untold varieties of crippling issues. That said, how we handle sickness, illness, and whatever may come our way is vastly helped by being in much better health.
That’s why lately I’ve been focusing heavily on stories about uber-healthy seniors, and folks who have dealt with all manner of health and other challenges and focused on finding their best versions of fit.
It is in no way an exhortation to diet, nor is it a blame game that if you can’t powerlift 200 lbs you’re a schlub. I’m asking you to do something about your health.
These are just some of the many issues I must face as I age, that you and everyone around you must face as you age. This is life. Parts of it aren’t pretty. But you and I can improve our chances of a prettier and happier future if we take our health seriously. That’s why I write so much about health and fitness after fifty. Because research shows again and again, that about 70% of how we age is absolutely in our hands. The rest, well, you know. But if we are prepared, if we take our bodies and mental and spiritual health seriously, we have ever so much better a chance of being able to dance with whatever devils turn up.
Please. I don’t make money or get accolades or a Pulitzer Prize if you reduce your BP, get more flexible, get stronger, improve your options. But I do have that wickedly wonderful feeling that you’re doing something solely for you, your future, your family, those who love you.
When you do, and I really hope you do, please write me about it. I like to share inspirational stories. These days I would vastly prefer to be inspired than just tired from reading bad news. Let’s make good news because we still can. And because the future gets lighter, brighter and better when we take that future in hand for ourselves with better healthy habits.
Who’s needing and feeding you at sixty-four and beyond?