Most young people, in fact most middle age people can’t imagine being seventy, or eighty, or ninety years of age. At this moment of human history, do we know how to become a population of longer lives? Do we know how to step into this unknown, and do it well? It’s about my kids. Because they are living in a world where life expectancy has increased from fifty to eighty plus in a hundred years. And they’re going to have four to five different careers over their lifetime. And they may not retire until they’re seventy or eighty.
I actually was not planning to go into medicine. It never occurred to me when I was in high school or college. I was a history major, who was interested in law. Then I started thinking, in a lot of ways the challenges of turning into an aging society, in a way that was good, was going to be the challenge of the 21st century.
Geriatricians understood that some people, some how as they got older became frail. But there were lots of definitions in the field about what frailty was and I could go through a long litany of what they were but fast forward twenty years of science the final criteria for frailty are whether someone is thin, and has lost weight, whether they are weak, whether they have slowed down, measured by whether their walking speed is slow. Whether they have declined in their physical activity and whether they have a sense of low energy or exhaustion.
The face is absolutely to get moving and to get moving particularly in terms of maintaining strength. That’s critically important that we also maintain muscle mass. And it appears that you need to have a certain amount of strength to have the energy to get up in the morning to get up and go.
I’m extremely impressed with New York as a great city to grow older and to retire. Because of the ability to get to lots of culture and access to churches and synagogues all kinds of things that are important to people’s well being. To get on the bus and go see friends. And to stay engaged and a lot of civic activities because New Yorkers are so civic minded and community focused.
One of the things I heard a lot in the mid to late eighties from my patients was how difficult the transition to retirement was and is for many people. And how goal-less they felt and how unproductive they felt. So people who been busy and engaged and contributing to so many people’s lives suddenly were cast off into the American sea of role-less and with great difficulty in terms of purpose and lack of ability to find roles that matter. Part of a successful transition to being an aging society is to create new unanticipated roles
through which older adults can stay engaged in ways that are deeply meaningful for them and make a profound difference for society. And if we create those roles we will actually amplify hugely the benefits of ahead of us of being an aging society.