For many baby boomers the first knockings of old age are often out of the blue.
"Even though they realize they're hitting a time of life when things may arise, like menopause for women, erectile dysfunction for men, or getting a diagnosis like arthritis, when it actually happens it can be very disturbing," states Robert Butler, president of the International Longevity Center in New York, and the founding director of the National Institute on Aging in Bethesda, Md.
AdvertisementFigures from the U.S. Census give that there are 77.5 million baby boomers, those who were born between 1946 and 1964. For this group, conditions such as arthritis, high cholesterol, cancer, sports injuries and obesity are more common than they are in younger adults. Some problems include osteoporosis-related fractures, which will be experienced by about one of every two women and one out of every four men older than 50. Another such is some form of erectile dysfunction, in men over age 50. Yet other common health ailments are dental, hearing and vision problems.
Says Ula Jurkunas, an ophthalmologist and eye surgeon at Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary at Harvard Medical School in Boston:"It is estimated that the number of people with cataracts will increase 50% by 2020."
Denial sometimes runs next to shock when boomers first face aging, physicians say. Eye surgeon Jurkunas says patients over 40 will come in asking about Lasik surgery, but when she diagnoses age-related vision problems such as cataracts and presbyopia (the need for reading glasses), they're often startled. "Some simply disagree," she says.
Once they process a diagnosis, however, boomers often accept their frailties and attack with a vengeance, experts say. "They want to age differently from their parents," says Vonda Wright, an orthopedic surgeon and sports medicine doctor at University of Pittsburgh Medical Center who specializes in the care of aging adults. Wright says studies show 78% of older adults recognize that exercise is the way to age well.
"Boomers are redefining the way we age," opines Drew Nannis, a spokeswoman for AARP. "Many are learning that being diagnosed with age-related conditions doesn't necessarily have to stop them from being active."
Nayo, a grandmother of three who does yoga and Pilates every week and is training for a half-marathon in October, says: "I've revised the way I think about getting older. Now I accept that I am not the woman I was five or 10 years ago, rather than longing for that which was."
Most baby boomers would agree that a good marriage and supportive friends who will listen to their health-related concerns, help them weather the ups and downs of aging. As they say, it's comforting when friends get older , together.