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Boomer Bytes: – Are We Really Old?

Editor’s Note: This is Steve Canipe’s second column in his series called Boomer Bytes. The column, as the title suggests, will focus on a variety of topics that may be of interest to baby boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964. But Canipe also hopes to start a conversation with younger generations, too. Check out an introduction and Canipe’s first column

By Steve Canipe

Are we really old?

As my birthday is approaching, I have begun considering if I am really old.  As I considered age, I was led to a consideration of a larger question– what is old? This thought led to a spiraling series of thoughts: is being old different for different people; maybe it’s different in different countries; what makes some individuals at age 55 seem old and others at 70 not seem old? What is the trigger?


It seems obvious that there are no real answers to any of my questions – only opinions and suppositions. Isn’t this part of what this column is about?  I want to encourage dialog and discussion. I will be sharing some of my thoughts and suppositions and ask you to reflect and share yours with me and other readers as well.

Business (that nebulous term) is sometimes the leader in helping us understand what old is.  Maybe they have a handle on it through giving discounts for age as one example.  A number of business establishments give discounts for the elderly and some start as low as age 50; some start at 55; and still others start at 65.  Does this really help in determining what is old?

If businesses have such disparate requirements for “old,” maybe the US Government can provide more clarity. The United States National Park Service allows the purchase of a Golden Age pass at age 62.  This pass allows the payment of a one-time $10 fee to grant life-time admission to National Parks, recreation areas, etc. where admission fees are charged. At age 75, the Transportation Security Administration removes the requirement for oldsters to remove shoes when going through airport check stations. Hmmm.

So government provides no more help than business on a consensus of what constitutes old.  So maybe old is a state of mind or a state of body…both?   If that is the case, let me give you my thoughts on old.  What I share does not mean that my thoughts are correct and I encourage you to share your thoughts on what constitutes “old age” to you.

In my mind, I can still dunk a basketball – my muscles have that memory of the run up to the rim and the over it with the ball.  In reality, I cannot even touch the rim any more at 10 feet high…on some days even touching the bottom of the net is difficult!  I say to myself that it is because I weigh more now than I did in my basketball playing days (50 pounds more!).  While that extra weight may be part of it, I don’t think that it is the whole reason that I can no longer do what I once did. 

There are a number of similar things – I can no longer maintain my balance as easily as I once did; I can no longer lay my hands flat on the floor without bending my knees; I can no longer throw a baseball from centerfield to home plate in the air; and I no longer have as much hair to comb!!  There are so many of these and similar type things that I cannot do anymore.  I’m sure I could name hundreds more where what I once did easily, I can no longer do at all. Have I gotten old? Well — yes and no!

Why worry about age anyway?  Many people understand aging as getting closer to the time when aging stops – death.  With some families having long lived members, is aging a family thing?  If our family members live a long time, does that mean that we will?  While there is not an absolute guarantee that this will occur, there is a tendency for longevity to run in families. 

In my case, on my maternal side of the family I had a great aunt who lived to be 101; a grandfather who lived to 95; three aunts that were over 92; two uncles who lived over  90 years; and a mother who was nearly 92 when she passed.  Does this mean that I will live that long and be as generally healthy and mentally alert as they were?  I don’t know for certain, but I can hope so. Tendency to longevity does run in families; but we should all remember that we are directly a product of genetic materials from a mom and a dad, so there are longevity considerations from two sides of our family involved in giving us whatever genes we have.  These genes manifest themselves in hair color, blood type, shape of our eyes, color of our skin, and many more traits. 

There are a number of online surveys that will help you figure your biological age as opposed to your chronological age.  Your biological age is how old your body is related to your end of life time – when the body parts either stop repairing, disease starts in, or other factors cause you to depart life. Sites called Biological Age at (http://www.biological-age.com) and Real Age at (http://www.realage.com/) are but two of them. Remember if you use these sites, they are only working with averages, nothing is guaranteed for the individual.  With that said, it is interesting to see how we stack up to the averages.

If you use any of these survey tools, you quickly find that there are physical as well as mental aspects to aging.  I’m sure you have probably heard folks say “old before her time,”  “he acts like an old man,” and similar statements passing a value judgment on age.  Sometimes I believe we are as young as we act. Does this mean having a “second childhood” as has been said? Probably not as that is something else entirely!

One of the things that symbolizes childhood and sets it apart from older ages is going to school and doing formal learning.  In our young adult years, we are still learning as we begin new jobs, become parents, etc.  In our middle years, we tend to slow down our formal learning processes and just modify and enhance what we already know.  As we get into our “golden” years, our formal learning may stop altogether.  Numerous researchers have opined that to keep our minds active is to enhance the quality, if not the length, of life.  Even taking formal classes as we get older is something that could be considered.  But if formal learning is not desired or possible then mind puzzles like crosswords, Sudoku, and similar activities are desirable.  Some research on brain plasticity and the onset of Alzheimer’s disease has shown the disease progression to be slowed by playing the simple game called Tetris.  This was reported on ABC news in 2012 and can be found at (http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/health/2012/01/23/brain-games-may-help-thwart-alzheimers-study/).

Reading, not just for fun, but also for learning should be considered.  With the advent of free online courses, the accessibility of learning is there for pretty much anyone who has access to a computer and the Internet.  Using MOOC (massive open online class) technology the cost is only time.  Visit http://www.openculture.com/free_certificate_courses to learn more.  Many of the best universities in the world now offer free courses in such disparate areas as Neuroscience from Duke University, The Modern World: Global History Since 1760 from University of Virginia; Principles of Written English from Univ Cal-Berkley; Astrobiology and the Search for Extraterrestrial Life from University of Edinburgh; along with about 800 more and all free!!  Other schools offering quality courses are Stanford, MIT, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, Georgia Tech, University of Texas-Austin, and McGill University.  There are multitudes of courses being offered at other great universities worldwide, providing access to these opportunities for life-long learning.

So after all this discourse, the question I began with is not really any closer to being answered – “Are we really old?”  We know that age is partially a state of mind, partially genetically influenced, and partially controlled by our own actions and feelings.  So are we old?  I don’t feel old at nearly 68 – I am still energetic, walk almost daily at the Wellness Center in Boone, am actively working and still learning. Can I do everything I once did – a resounding NO!!  I try to have a positive outlook…for me, one of the things that helps with maintaining that outlook is that I am married to my best friend and have been for nearly 42 years.  Some other things that help are that I’ve two wonderful kids, two adorable dogs, a bunch of wonderful friends, and a purpose in living.

Let me hear about your view of aging – I’ll share your thoughts in an upcoming blog – email me at BoomerBytes@yahoo.com