CALA News & Views - Summer 2016 - page 11

www. C A a s s i s t e d l i v i n g . o r g
Words matter. Words have the power
to inform and influence; and when
used effectively, the right words can
dramatically impact a reputation,
product, or cause.
Just as words can make a movement, they risk breaking one
as well. Some policymakers and advocates stress the need
for increased services and supports by labeling the boomer
generation as a “silver tsunami.” Unfortunately, this only
reinforces negative concerns about our aging population rather
than promoting positive ones.
Labeling a group is rarely a good thing, which is why
conventional wisdom supports
individuals as “older
adults” rather than
them as “seniors” or “elderly.” Former
Sacramento Bee
age-beat writer Anita Creamer agrees. “I hate
the word ‘seniors.’ Am I a junior because I’m not yet 60? We need
to retire ‘senior.’ Older adult is safe. I’ll say ‘the elderly’ when I’m
talking about someone who’s really old and fragile, but I don’t
think everyone cares for that term.”
“Aging” terminology is desperate for a facelift. For example,
while the word “aging” is a perfectly accurate description of the
process of growing older, the word has become synonymous
with the negative aspects of growing older (thanks in large
part to purveyors of “anti-aging” nonsense). Aging has become
something to deny, avoid, despise—which does not help when
attempting to positively influence public opinion.
“Longevity,” on the other hand, defines long life. Whether an
individual views aging by looking forward or looking in the
it is better than not. Longevity is a positive goal
which appeals to everyone who is aging, regardless of one’s
years of experience with the process.
Age is more than a number. It’s an
equation. Similar to Einstein’s theory
of relativity, our perspective on aging
depends upon where we stand in
space and time.
Data from this year’s 10th annual United Healthcare 100@100
survey confirms that the definition of “old” depends on who
you ask. At least 60 percent of the centenarians surveyed said
they do not feel old; in fact, most report feeling more than two
decades younger. Those who do feel old did not start feeling
so until age 89 (As an aside, it was Satchel Paige who famously
asked, “How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you
The survey respondents, all 100 or older, also reflected that
they felt most attractive at age 31; most energetic at age 34;
happiest at age 44; healthiest at age 46; wisest at age 49; and
most content at age 56. Having a positive attitude is the most
important factor in staying healthy, according to a quarter of
the centenarians. Next important are eating healthy, exercising
regularly, and keeping busy. Perhaps not surprisingly,
nearly two-thirds (61 percent) of the centenarians consider
themselves to be positive people.
As Mark Twain warned, “There
are lies, damned lies, and
statistics.”More of us are growing
old than ever before, and soon
there’ll be more old people
than young; even so, let’s not
hyperbolize the aging of our
With so much attention focused on boomers, it is frequently
stated that humankind’s life expectancy (average 78 years) has
increased by more than 30 years in the past century—a bigger
gain than during the past 50 centuries. This good fortune
requires clarification. The term“average life expectancy” really
refers to “life expectancy at birth.” In other words, it is the
average number of years that a newborn baby can expect to
live in a given society at a given time, which in ancient times
was extremely low and naturally has moved dramatically
upward as medicine and living conditions have improved.
The fact is the majority of adults, including those of our
evolutionary past, live to be about the same age with only
incremental advances.
The problem with older adults is not
that their percentage of the population
is increasing rapidly. The problem
is society does not appreciate the
potential upside of this demographic
This “longevity dividend”means more people with more time,
resources, and experience—in pursuit of new purpose. The
new generation of older adults is less about retirement and
more about
Longevity and older adults are about assets, benefits, and
solutions. Where others see problems, Laura Carstensen,
director of the Stanford Center on Longevity, sees
opportunities. “The number of older people in the world is the
only natural resource that’s actually growing.”
Now is the time to modify and distinguish our intentions—
in work and life. Literally and figuratively, it makes sense
to replace retire, retiring and retirement with
Older adults are often
represented as a special interest
group who are vulnerable,
helpless, burdens to themselves
and society. But the population
of concern for “aging” is
The goal should be healthy,
purposeful longevity. This is the
bridge from universal appeal to
personal interest.
can work
expectancy may
not be what you
is societal and
a numerical
don’t retire
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