January 07, 2012

How to be old

Victor Hugo said "forty is the old age of youth; fifty is the youth of old age."  I mentally passed the latter milestone last year (link), and did so under the western system this week.

And the world yawned.  I was not unique in this, in fact, I am not even old under modern rules.  As usual, the baby boomers are spoiling everything, and in the January I chose to turn 50, the first of them are turning 65.  That is the new threshold - and even they are "young old" (see The Elderly Sub-Populations here).  You're not just plain old anymore, unless you make it to 74.  Which is a little weird:  since male life expectancy in the U.S. is 76, it looks we only get, on average, a scant two years to dodder and wear onions on our belts.  Doesn't seem fair.

But the life expectancy numbers are little deceptive.  Life expectancy is rising, and expected to continue to rise.  And, overall life expectancy is modified by accident rates etc. during our misguided youth.  According to the government's mortality tables, if a man has made it 50, he has a fine chance of ticking along for another 30 years (ax murders and aggressive tumors notwithstanding).  This stretches out the period of cane-waving, worry-free dementia from two to six years.

And those who get to experience that blessed interval will have a lot of company.  It is a myth that there are more people alive today than there are dead ones.  But I recently saw an article that said there are more living old people than dead ones, or will be shortly (sorry no link, my Google-fu is weak).  For most of human history, life expectancy rarely approached 65 anywhere.  But the (temporary?) triumph over infectious disease, coupled with better outcomes in heart disease and cancer, suggests that there will be billions.

As I am among the first in our little group to reach the entryway to this exciting new chapter in human evolution, I thought I'd offer a few tips on how to get old.

  • Avoid yoga, you'll just hurt yourself.  Choose Tai Chi instead.  It's cheap, can be done at home, requires no special equipment.  You can learn it, with minimal effort and inconvenience, from this DVD.  The benefits are well-documented, although the mechanisms are still poorly understood.  The more naturally skeptical among you will wonder if there is really one all-powerful life-force controlling everything.  Possibly not.  But Tai Chi addresses three very real health needs for older people:
  • Get a colonoscopy soon (how about now?  is now good for you?).  Colon cancer is asymptomatic and deadly, but can be detected early or prevented (by removing precancerous polyps), if you get screened.  The incidence in people under 50 is rising.
  • Laugh your ass off at every opportunity.


Blogger Laird of Madrona said...

Oh, yeah: Happy Birthday, Old Man!

January 7, 2012 at 8:29 PM  

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