Sixty Is The New Thirty And Other Aging Myths

I have a confession to make: I am six years away from sixty, but I can walk up to the ticket window at my local theater and buy a “senior discount” ticket. It never occurred to me that I looked anywhere near sixty until one of young ticket sellers them said “senior discount, right?” Ouch.

The population my kid’s age and younger, think we are “ancient” at 50. We sure don’t FEEL ancient, despite a little morning stiffness now and then. Can we ever convince the young set we are still 18 years old in our heads and heart?

There are two schools of thought about aging stereotypes: Ours and theirs. “Ours” includes the millions of Boomers and Americans approaching 65, and “theirs” refers to everyone younger than Boomers, like my kids for example. Ours is that our so called retirement years are a chance to start over and do what we’ve always wanted to do, travel, teach, or pursue a passion like golf or photography. Their views are full of  “myth-conceptions”

You’ve heard the expression “Physician, Heal Thyself”. As a member of the burgeoning Baby Boomer Bunch and an aging-in-place remodeling contractor, I find myself having to do just that. My travels around the country teaching the CAPS courses (Certified Aging in Place Specialist), are interspersed with having to address the growing needs for assistance by my own aging parents back home. They are 86 years old and their physical limitations are forcing changes (like building ramps and widening doorways) in their homes so they can remain at home and enjoy the familiar rituals of daily life that mean so much to them.

Its time to dispel the rumors and set the record straight to the younger set about us.

Myth 1, People over 65 are OLD. Despite the new mindset of the boomer generation, this a long-standing benchmark in our culture. Even our tax laws use this benchmark. When you turn 65 “you should retire”; you should step back and let the younger folks in society take over.  You can no longer be productive, so please – hang out with other old people and quietly fade away.

Myth 2, Older minds are not as bright as younger minds. Tell that to XXX the founder of Home Depot who, upon his retirement thought it would be a good idea to make it easier for (homeowners and people in the construction business too) to go buy their tools and materials in one place. Remember the pre-Big Box days? There was a mom & pop hardware store you’d go to, and a lumberyard for materials. But for specialty items like professional grade tools and plumbing equipment, you had to go to several different specialty stores. The success of the box stores has all but drive the small hardware stores off the map wherever they appear. The fierce competition between Lowes and HD has hastened the demise of those small stores. In most cases, if a Home Depot ones in a good location, a bigger, fancier Lowes will pop up nearby. In our quest for everything bigger, better, faster, the “Home Improvement Heaven and “Construction Cafeteria” lure of these stores is very appealing –l and lucrative for these giant corporations. (Now, if I could just find someone to competently ANSWER MY QUESTIONS when I go in there, I’d be a happy camper). But I digress.

Myth 3, Older people are non-productive.  In an age of mergers and acquisitions, downsizing and layoffs, an new trend is starting. Managers and HR departments are starting to re-hire the experienced employees they let go a few years ago, recognizing that they can be more productive than the young bucks. Turns out there is some great gray matter in those graying heads. They can substitute their years of experience for the expensive training needed by the young employees. It turns out that and veteran employees can more easily (read: cheaply) be ramped up to speed on the new product lines – and even the new computer skills than anyone thought. The nature of the hiring market has changed, of course, and those re-hired may be brought in on a contract or consulting basis, not as full-blown employees, but it is still a win-win.  Experienced and productive. Imagine that.

Myth 4, Old people are unattractive and sex-less. Say this to anyone over 50 and they will laugh out loud. Ask nursing home employees who have to untangle amorous patients if the fire dies young. Ask the makers of Viagra and Cialis how sales are doing. One can always find attraction in people of their own generation, no matter how mature it may be.

Old people are all pretty much the same. If all old people liked the same thing,
they’d all be after your grandma! It will be interesting watching the impact of aging on the world. With the advent of better medicines there are more people walking the planet, even in underdeveloped countries. On the positive side, we can look forward to many more technological gizmos and medical breakthroughs to help us alive even longer. We Boomers have always proven adept at creating new technologies especially if it serves our own. The definition of “retirement” has changed to “start a new career doing what you always really wanted to do.” Sixty really is the new thirty. We are looking at what is going right as we age instead of what goes wrong. (see “Passages” book by Gail Sheehy) The culture of those who are 60 is way different than the last generation, who wore plaid pants. Today’s 60 year old would never do that, not even on the golf course! Other definitions are on the move too. “Middle age” is now 40-70.

One downside of being “older” is that we (especially women) cannot find any decent clothes when they go shopping. The malls and box stores are all selling young-people clothes (geez, I’m beginning to sound cranky and old myself). This is an indicator of a far bigger issue, however. With a few exceptions, the market place is largely ignoring the senior market, which is huge. The youth market is huge, too, but that’s no excuse. There can be two lucrative markets.

Television is driving away older news anchors and shows of interest to older viewers.  This was why Ted Koppel got dumped a few years ago. Remember his great quote on Dave Letterman, when they were discussing the absurdity of his firing? He said “It doesn’t make any sense. We have a lot more money at 55 the we did at 22, and we buy a lot more stuff!”

The fact remains that there are many more old TV viewers than younger ones. They are in front of a screen alright, but its not a TV screen most of the time. Their time is spent online gaming, IM-ing, VoIP-ing, and surfing. The TV giants just keep pouring huge amount of money into the youth market because “they are a hard market to reach”. Duh.

We should all learn lessons from seniors who maximize their time on the planet and ooze positive attitudes. People like Jack LaLane and George XXX the bare-foot water-skiing octogenarian you’ve seen on TV over the years. They believe “if you feel to old to do something, do it.” You might just surprise yourself.  Growing more pessimistic and sabotaging our own abilities is a choice we make. Let’s not go there.