April 5, 2012 in Features

Age is only a number; we need a name

By The Spokesman-Review
 
Associated Press photo

Betty White is among an increasing number of 90-plus-year-olds that remain vital and active.
(Full-size photo)

» Send your suggestions for labels that will describe aging baby boomers to rebeccan@spokesman.com or leave a message at (509) 459-5496. We will publish some of the suggestions, and give a reward to the best label.

About 7,000 baby boomers turn 65 every day.

If the fact fills you with anxiety, calm down. The coming “gray tsunami” might not be a disaster, as feared.

I recently attended the Age Boom Academy at New York’s Columbia University. Researchers who specialize in the physiological, sociological and psychological issues of aging updated journalists on how baby boomers will do older age differently than their parents and grandparents.

Consider:

• Boomers won’t likely be a financial drain on society. People older than 60 hold more than 50 percent of the wealth in developed societies, according to the World Economic Forum.

Experts anticipate many boomers to keep working into their 70s and 80s, easing the strain on Social Security and contributing to the tax bases in their communities. Most will work because they want to, and many will work part-time, often at “encore” careers. Already, according to www.encore.org, 6 to 9 percent of people ages 44 to 70 have launched encore careers.

“This is the wave of the future,” said Steve McConnell, director of the Atlantic Philanthropies Aging Program.

• Between 2015 and 2020, there will be more people older than 65 than children younger than 5, for the first time in human history. Experts hope that many of these 65-plus folks will focus their time and talent in our schools.

Linda Fried, dean of the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia, co-founded Experience Corps, a seniors-in-the-schools program now in 19 cities. Corps members are paid stipends to work with students in schools. They rarely call in sick.

“It will change the world,” Fried said.

• Currently, 20 percent of 90-year-olds are physically and cognitively healthy. Expect the number of vital 90-year-olds to double in the next 25 years.

Watch Rebecca Nappi discuss aging boomers with KHQ’s Dave Cotton

• Men and women in their 50s and beyond suffer less depression, and are less likely to abuse drugs and alcohol. They are also much less violent than younger generations.

“That’s why there aren’t a lot of 55-year-old gang members,” said Karl Pillemer, director of the Cornell Institute for Translational Research on Aging.

• Aging boomers will demand new labels to define them. They will recoil at the term “senior citizen,” for instance.

So we’re asking readers of all ages to create new names to define a generation of older citizens who will boost our economy, help save our schools and contribute in vital ways into their 90s.

Some examples: Welderly, wiserly. Can you do better? Give it a try.


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