August 21, 2014

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Old Age Isn’t as Bad as You Think

By Jane Glenn Haas, The Orange County Register

The good news is we are all going to live longer than we ever imagined.

The even better news is that old age isn’t nearly as bad as people think it is.

Nor is it quite as good, says a new Pew Research Center Social & Demographic Trends survey on aging.

They asked 2,969 adults and discovered that younger and middle-age people “persistently overestimate the good and bad on getting old,” says Paul Taylor, executive vice president for Pew.

And while older Americans weren’t all rosy, “They were pretty upbeat,” he says.

The conclusion: The bad things the younger and middle-ages worry about are often the final phase of life issues

— Illness and death.

The older adults worry about the same things as everyone else — having friends and money.

What makes the conclusions valuable, he says, are the consequences for public policy.

In 1900, people 65-plus were 4 percent of the population. Today, the age cohort is 13 percent of the population — and the oldest boomers are only 63.

Here are some key findings:

The Markers of Old Age: You are old when you turn 85, say 79 percent of the respondents. Others say when you can’t live independently (76 percent); can’t drive (66 percent); turn 75 (62 percent); forget names (51 percent); have failing health (47 percent) have trouble walking up stairs (45 percent); have bladder control issues (42 percent); are no longer sexually active (33 percent); turn 65 (32 percent); retire (23 percent); have grandchildren (15 percent); have gray hair (13 percent).

There is a sizeable gap between the expectations that young and middle-age adults have about old age and the actual experiences reported by older adults, the report says.

—The older people get, the younger they feel, says the report. Among 18 to 29-year olds, half say they feel their age. By contrast, among adults 65 and older, fully 60 percent say they feel younger than their age. The gap widens as people age over 60, with most saying they feel 10 years younger than their chronological age.

—The Challenges of Aging are not as bad as younger adults think, the survey concludes. For example, people age 18-64 expect memory loss with age (57 percent) but only 25 percent of persons 65-plus actually experience the loss. Then 42 percent of the younger and middle-aged expect a serious illness but only 21 percent experience that after age 65.

—At the same time, the benefits of growing older are numerous. Seven in 10 respondents ages 65 and older say they are enjoying more time with family. About two-thirds have more time for hobbies, more financial security and enjoy not having to work. About six in 10 say they get more respect and feel less stress. Just over half cite more time to travel and do volunteer work.

—When do you feel old? Among respondents 65-74, just 21 percent say they feel old. Only 35 percent over 75 said they feel old.

—Those 65 and older told researchers they talk with family and friends every day (90 percent); read a book or newspaper (83 percent); take their medications (83 percent); watch more than one hour of television (77 percent); pray (76 percent); drive a car (65 percent); enjoy a hobby (43 percent) take a nap (40 percent); go shopping (39 percent); use the Internet (28 percent); get some type of vigorous exercise (22 percent).

Older adults are about as happy as everyone else, Taylor says.

And what makes them happy are about the same things that predict happiness among younger and middleaged adults — good health, good friends and financial security.

For more information, see pewresearch.org

Jane Glenn Haas writes for The Orange County (Calif.) Register. E-mail her at jghaas@cox.net.