Friday, December 23, 2016

The secret to happiness in America. A paradoxical realization

When she used to see an elderly woman on the street, hunched over, taking tentative little steps, Ashton Applewhite would say to anyone who'd listen, "put me out my misery if I ever get like that."
Today, that makes Applewhite, 63, cringe.
"I'm ashamed of thinking that now. Why assume she's miserable? My guess is that she's happy to be alive and out and about. Maybe she's going to meet her boyfriend. It's presumptuous to assume her quality of life sucks because her body has changed," said Applewhite, a writer and self-described "apprehensive boomer turned pro-aging radical."
Applewhite, whose book "This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism" was published March 15, is part of a growing national movement to redefine what it means to age in America.
Leaders in this field include Dr. Dilip Jeste, the director of UC San Diego's Center for Healthy Aging, and AARP Chief Executive Jo Ann Jenkins, whose new book "Disrupt Aging" - which challenges people to not only accept their age but embrace it - came out of a 2014 speech she gave to 10,000 AARP members in San Diego.
On Friday, Dr. Bill Thomas, a Harvard Medical School-educated geriatrician, will bring his so-called Age of Disruption Tour to San Diego's Joan B. Kroc Theatre, where he'll put on a presentation that's part concert, part lecture, part call to arms to revolutionize aging.
Age of Disruption Tour
Who: Dr. Bill Thomas, with musical guest Nate Silas Richardson
What: Afternoon workshop, "Disrupt Dementia," a session designed for people living with dementia and their caregivers; evening event, "Aging: Life's Most Dangerous Game," includes musical and theatrical performances
When: Friday, 2:30-4:30 p.m. and 7-8:30 p.m.
Where: Joan B. Kroc Theatre, 6611 University Ave., San Diego; (619) 269-1552
Tickets: $15 per session;
It's no coincidence that these four aging advocates are members of the baby boom generation, a group that's rewritten the rules in its youth, middle age and now older years.
"The baby boom has changed every life stage they've been a part of," said Thomas, whose tour is making its way to 30 cities across the country.
"As this giant generation faces this life stage, they're going to say, ‘hey no, I don't like that.'"
Thomas divides boomers into three categories:
Those in denial who try to stay young forever with Botox injections, expensive creams and unproven "snake oil" hormones and remedies. "It's the current equivalent to ‘Hell no, we won't go!'"
The resigned, who munch on kale and flax seed while doing Sudoku puzzles. "They tell themselves, ‘It's going to be bad, but if I do these things it won't be so bad."
And the embracers. "I'm in a rare tribe who looks forward to it with enthusiasm. It's possible to look forward to something and know there are parts of the experience you'd like to avoid, that won't be pleasant. That's why I call (my talk) Aging: Life's Most Dangerous Game," he said.
Thomas likened how people approach old age to those who'd rather go on, say, a safe cruise versus climbing Machu Picchu.
"There are some who would say, ‘you know there could be rock slides,' and there's the adventure traveler who says, ‘yeah, but it's Machu Picchu!' They do it because they think the adventure is greater than the risk. Look, I'm not a silly person who says old age is great and nothing will happen. Something will happen. But people who have a great fear of aging are going against their own future self. They become a traitor by robbing themselves of future possibilities."
All of the experts interviewed for this story said society's view of old age - that it's solely a depressing period of physical and mental decline - isn't backed up by data, science and research.
"We internalize a lifetime of messages that the younger self is worth more than the older self," Applewhite said. "The older self is just different."
She began writing her book while in her 50s, when its original focus was on people in the workforce well into their 80s. Her reporting, as well as research on longevity, led her to "This Chair Rocks."
"What surprised me was how everything I thought I knew about aging was wrong," she said by phone from Brooklyn.
Applewhite cited statistics that show a minute portion of the elderly live in nursing homes, with about 95 percent of Americans living independently. And she noted that while memory will moderately falter for most, about 20 percent of older people experience no decline at all in memory.
"Things slow us down, but it doesn't keep the vast, vast majority of us from functioning just fine," she said. "The epidemic isn't dementia, it's the anxiety about dementia."
Applewhite and Thomas both referred to the U-Bend theory, which holds that people are happiest at the beginning of their lives and toward the end.
"Statistically, the happiest decade is the 70s," he said.

National movement seeks to redefine what it means to age in America - The San Diego Union-Tribune
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