April 15, 2011

USA: Don't believe the hype - Susan Jacoby tells the truth about aging

TORONTO, Ontario / Canadian Broadcasting Centre (CBC.ca) / Books / April 15, 2011

If advertisements are any indication, old age is looking pretty darn good these days. Free from the burdens of work and at-home children, life after 65 can seem a lot more fun than the harried days of youth. There's time to travel, run on the beach, date, even paraglide, all with the same vim and vigour of your 40s and 50s.

But according to Susan Jacoby, that's a big fat lie — an empty, misleading promise that doesn't include the less-appealing realities of getting older.

"Most of this glorification of the new old age is about people who are in their relatively very healthy, vigorous 60s and 70s," Jacoby explained in a recent interview on Q. "What happens if you live into your mid-80s [...] is that an increasing number of health problems and financial problems make your life very different than in the 60s and 70s."

In her new book Never Say Die: The Myth and Marketing of the New Old Age, Jacoby takes on the rhetoric and presents a portrait of advanced old age that is not quite so glossy and picture-perfect. There are many things about aging today that are better than 50 years ago, blood pressure drugs, for example. But there is no salve, serum or low-calorie diet that can prevent or treat dementia. And the cost of living well in your 80s or 90s is something our social security plans and retirement savings simply weren't designed for.

The idea of 90 as the new 50 is nothing more than an elaborate marketing ploy, Jacoby says. It's a way to sell "age-defying" products from face creams to fitness equipment to aging boomers who are eager to lap up the message: work out, eat well, moisturize and win the prize of extended youth. The problem is, Jacoby points out, you can't cheat the clock.

"Old age is something you can't defy. You can live it as well as you can — exercising, eating well, keeping your mind active as long as possible — but that won't help you if you fall in the unlucky number of people who simply get worse physically as they get older."

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