Losing the Marbles

July 17, 2013

communication_for_the_elderly_1668895Here we are smack-dab in the middle of the week already — routine overcast and chilly on California’s north coast this morning as we descend toward the weekend.
Doing a work week is really, really getting old.

So, let us abandon for just for a moment a 22-year-old actress beating the bloody shit out of her boyfriend, or a mega-important thirty-something guy hiding in a Moscow airport, and swing the light arc to us old folks — we’re in a state of shit right now and the future don’t look so good.
Despite supposedly living in the greatest country on earth in all of history, the elderly in the US are facing a high-hill road to the cemetery.

(Illustration found here).

Time creates a real funny touch to aging — and I don’t mean ha, ha funny either — which allows a way-much clearer vision of reality than years past. In this scenario, I’m thirty-something and full of life, and then as if a quick cinematic cut, I’m approaching my 65th year of life. All in seems in a matter of minutes.
Since I don’t have a pension, no insurance (except on my stomach-acid-inducing Jeep) and live from paycheck to paycheck, I find I’m really living ahead of the curve.
From Forbes last March:

We are on the precipice of the greatest retirement crisis in the history of the world.
In the decades to come, we will witness millions of elderly Americans, the Baby Boomers and others, slipping into poverty.
Too frail to work, too poor to retire will become the “new normal” for many elderly Americans.

Our national demographics, coupled with indisputable glaringly insufficient retirement savings and human physiology, suggest that a catastrophic outcome for at least a significant percentage of our elderly population is inevitable.
With the average 401(k) balance for 65 year olds estimated at $25,000 by independent experts — $100,000 if you believe the retirement planning industry — the decades many elders will spend in forced or elected “retirement” will be grim.

The signs of the coming retirement crisis are all around you.
Who’s bagging your groceries: a young high school kid or an older “retiree” who had to go back to work to supplement his income or qualify for health insurance?
The impending crisis will come in what I call “waves,” as opposed to a tsunami hitting all at once.
With each successive wave, more elderly will be drowned.
The older you are, the harder it is to recover from a set-back.

Or a fall down, or a getting up.
Aging isn’t half as much fun as I thought — in fact, I never thought too much about getting really old. When I was 11 or 12, I thought 17 was a great age, but as I got older, age wasn’t a factor as much as just being alive. Pains that were a minor inconvenience in my 20s, are a literal pain in the ass in my 60s.
And there’s a sinking suspicion it’s all going to get worse.

Richard Gunderman, professor and vice-chair of the Radiology Department at Indiana University, took a look last week at The Atlantic on getting old in the US and the long life we all desire.
A few snips:

Earlier this week data published in the Journal of the American Medical Association indicated that the life expectancy of people in the United States has increased over the past two decades by three years, to 78.2.
This means that the average American today enjoys an extra 1,100 days of life.
However, the news is not all good.
For example, the U.S. still lags behind most of the world’s other rich nations on a number of health indices, including rates of heart disease, lung cancer, and diabetes.
Moreover, during the same period, the U.S. ranking in healthy life expectancy fell from 14th to 26th. As one news outlet put it, “although we are living longer, we are not living better.”
The statistics surrounding life expectancy are important, and in general it is highly desirable that we find ways to prevent needless deaths.
No one wants to die before their time, particularly if we are paying this price for something so trivial as an extra daily nut fudge sundae.
On the other hand, the idea of “living better” deserves serious examination.
What do we mean when we say that someone is living well or living poorly?

Beneath our appetite for competition and our desire to be number one lurks a deeper desire, the impulse to be in control.
And above all, we want to control our fate, to feel secure in the knowledge that we all get what we deserve.
Work hard in the marketplace and you will be rewarded with a secure, well-paying job and lush retirement.
Eat right, exercise, and avoid bad habits such as smoking and alcohol abuse and you will lead a long and healthy life.
Show us what it will take to get back on top, doc, and we Americans will rise to the challenge.

The problem, however, is that the mist of health statistics often obscures the mountain we are really trying to climb.
It is true that U.S. life expectancy lags behind that of a number of other nations.
It is true that if we could lower rates of smoking and obesity, we could probably bump these numbers up.
But a more sober analysis reveals that life expectancy is a pretty poor indicator of health.
We are attracted to it because it is straightforward to measure and makes it relatively easy to keep score.
But we cannot tell from a person’s life expectancy how well they are actually living.

So good living is in the mind. Tell that to my freakin’ bowels!
Sometimes my inner George Carlin comes out: “I wanna live. I don’t wanna die. That’s the whole meaning of life: Not dying! I figured that shit out by myself in the third grade.”

But here the fuck I am!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.