Betwixt and between: redefining ‘old’

In 1980, when Ronald Reagan was campaigning for president, I remember telling my mother that I thought he was too old to run. Reagan was 69 at the time—Donald Trump’s age, as it happens.

Mom, who was then in her early 50s, disagreed and so, apparently, did the electorate. Reagan went on to inhabit the White House for the next eight years.

A candidate’s age might have been an issue 36 years ago, but Reagan would be in good company today. This election cycle, only one candidate—Ted Cruz—is under the age of 60. Hillary Clinton is 68, John Kasich is 63 and Bernie Sanders manages to nail the youth vote at 74. Compared with the rest of the front-runners Cruz, at 45, is a mere pup.

The graying of the candidates underscores a new reality among an aging populace. With U.S. life expectancy hovering around 80, the definition of one’s productive years has changed. People in my grandmother’s cohort—born around the turn of the last century—considered themselves old at 50. That’s barely middle aged for us Boomers.

Here in our 60s, we’re at an awkward, intermediate stage of life: no longer young, not yet old. As a result, many of us are experiencing a delicate tension between expansion and contraction, a kind of generational push-me, pull-you.

We might be fulfilling lifelong dreams of travel and adventure—hiking the Appalachian Trail, obtaining an advanced degree or, I don’t know, sky-diving. It’s now or never, right?

At the same time, we are looking ahead to the point when we won’t be able to do such things. Indeed, suddenly it seems as if everyone I talk to is contemplating plans for extreme old age.

A friend in California has downsized and moved to a 55-plus community, while a couple I know in Dingmans Ferry are moving from their two-story home to a ranch house in the same community. They are in their 60s, fit and active—but they foresee a time when it will make sense to be on one level.

Another friend talks about one day moving back to the city fulltime. She’ll know it’s time when she can no longer easily manage the commute back and forth to her country place.

Under the surface resides a low-level anxiety about outliving one’s money. It doesn’t help to hear news reports about old people getting bilked out of their savings by opportunistic caregivers. You need to think about who to put in charge of your finances if you’re no longer able to manage them yourself.

This is a particular problem if you don’t have kids. But of course, even children can be unscrupulous when money is at stake. It’s not unheard of for offspring to insinuate themselves onto an elderly parent’s bank account and start using the money for themselves while the parent is still alive.

It’s a strange life task, making these kinds of plans. But better to tackle them now than to leave things undone and take your chances later.

 

 

 

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