The Morning File: Aging of the world is something to live for
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If you feel badly about growing older, you're not alone -- the whole world is increasingly stooped over, shuffling its feet and asking you to turn up the television volume.
New population projections released by the U.S. Census Bureau Wednesday indicate that by the year 2050, most of the world (Africa being the main exception) will have more people over age 65 than under age 15, due to increased longevity and reduced fertility.
Normally, throughout history right up to today, young people have ruled, always pestering their elders with requests for more chocolate milk and fewer baths. (Why can't someone invent some form of chocolate milk with hygienic cleansing power that comes out of the bathtub faucet?)
Europe is the only continent where old people already dominate the young in numbers. This is why you see so much stuff still sitting around there from centuries ago -- the old fogies just can't let go of the cathedrals and castles they grew up with to make way for nice, new, energy-efficient condominiums.
In the U.S., presently, 13.5 percent of the population is 65-plus, while 20 percent is 14 or younger. By 2050, it will be 20.5 percent in the oldest group and 19.1 percent among the youngest.
Whether that trend is cause for concern or joy is subject to debate. It comes down to whether you're one of those people who sees the bedpan as half empty or half full.
If you're more pessimistic, you're worried about the financial solvency of Social Security and Medicare, workforce shortages, caregiving obligations for adult children, rampant dementia, a lack of geriatricians and personal aides and -- most importantly -- how long it takes to get through the supermarket express line if multiple gray-haired women are in front of you.
If you're an eternal optimist, like your Morning File author, you're just grateful to anticipate age 92 in 2050, with a nice canister of ready-to-inhale oxygen at your side and relief that fewer young'uns will be around to roll their eyes when you tell stories about the three rivers that once had water here, before the great global warming of the '20s.
We also look forward to our nonagenarian years because of the low stress involved. A study recently released by Carnegie Mellon University researchers found that as you pass through each decade, your level of stress decreases. You gradually learn to relax and focus on the positive aspects of living. Relatively insignificant hardships that one can't control -- the Pirates' current inability to execute a sacrifice bunt, for example -- become less aggravating.
Yes, it's possible we could end up among the 16 million Americans that the Alzheimer's Association estimates will have dementia by 2050, which is about triple the number who have it now. In our early 90s, there's at least a 50-50 chance we'll have Alzheimer's. But we'll be content to let our caregivers fret when we put our clothes on backward or pour ketchup on our ice cream -- we'll be merrily stress-free.
One of the nice things about the future of aging is how many peers we'll be able to share it with. It used to be that anyone in his 90s was a freak of nature.
By 2050, there will probably be clothing lines, restaurants and cable TV music channels dedicated specifically to that age group's tastes, as well as some sort of super-senior discount at the Jimmy Buffett concerts they're still hosting at whatever the giant amphitheater in Burgettstown is called by then -- presumably with even worse traffic problems than it has now.
And we'll subscribe to glossy aging magazines showcasing everyone from octogenarians on up on the cover, similar to how AARP's publication now highlights hardly wrinkled Hollywood stars in their 50s to combat aging stereotypes. We can't wait to see what Raquel Welch looks like in a bikini in 2050 in a photo shoot for our planned new digital mag, Centenarian, at age 110.
Some people don't like the idea of growing old, which is their prerogative, just as it's their right to look all weirdly waxy in trying to defy it. But like Maurice Chevalier said, this aging process isn't really so bad when you consider the alternatives.
We're looking forward to it over the next four decades or so, just so long as there's someone young and available in 2050 to change the oxygen canister. That person probably isn't born yet, but let's hope someone gets working on it soon.
First Published June 28, 2012 12:00 am