This month through the benevolence of the Almighty, I get to be 65. I am now officially “old” and go on the Medicare roles. Some in our youth-oriented society will believe that I now belong to a group of senior citizens known as “greedy geezers”, an image that was introduced in the New Republic nearly 10 years ago. The concept of demanding oldsters draining our nation’s resources was unfair and factually wrong. In fact, in 1993 more Medicare and social security was spent on the young, i.e., 442 billion dollars versus 413 billion on the old. And many older Americans continue to contribute to our economy in many important ways. For example, grandparents who care for grandchildren continue to contribute more than 20 billion dollars annually.
“What are the advantages of age?” I was asked yesterday by a patient my age and her husband, age 70. “Not much,” I quickly replied, “except for the obvious.” On reflection my comment was too much a knee jerk reaction to the passage of time and the loss of or reduction in some abilities that accompany this time of life. Age actually is an advantage from many standpoints, such as judgment, experiences and perspective. Some artists, inventors, physicians, statesmen, and writers amongst others, continue to make major contributions into old age.
I have previously written in these pages that age is actually the failure of adaptation to life. Modern medicine has offered marvelous ways to maintain a healthy adjustment to age with exciting pharmaceutical advances, medical devices and corrective or curative surgery. New research on aging is beginning to suggest that the aging process itself may be slowed through medications or perhaps by antioxidant vitamins.
How long can one live? The oldest recorded person lived to be 122. This record will stand for a long time. One in 100,000 lives to be 100. But today we have more centurions than ever before. Octogenarians are now the most rapidly growing segment of our society.
Let me end with a quote from the late Alvan Barach, the original oxygen pioneer. It is from a dedication I did for him in one of my books, “Let’s stay on earth till our cup is full of love and grief and morning sky; until glory, splendor and power are dull; yes, let’s wait till then to die.”
My birthday is on Christmas Eve, so, Merry Christmas everyone. I’ll be in touch next month.
Thomas Petty, MD