Today’s medical technology and scientific advances have led to people in North America living longer. Many, are living into their 80’s and 90’s and some are reaching that milestone age of 100. A handful are going beyond.
This has led to a new phenomenon. Today, society has three generations of seniors. The youthful senior, 55-70, the middle-aged senior, 71-80, and the 85+ aged senior.
But what age does one qualify to be a senior? Depending on whom you ask, the official age varies. A Canadian seniors’ magazine suggests age 50. McDonald’s Restaurants say a senior is anyone 55+. Canada Pension can start at 60 but to qualify for old age security, Revenue Canada requires that you be, 65.
Today’s lifestyles and improved health outcomes enable someone in their 60’s to be a ‘youthful’ senior. Far more active than their parents, some are still working, providing daycare for grand children and volunteering in the community. In many cases the onset of the 60’s, brings about more of an acceptance of self. Rita Squires, 63 describes it this way. “What I love about my age is that I’m finally comfortable with who I am, tummy and all. I do not feel a need to pretend or overcompensate for anything. This is me. Take it or leave it,” she said.
Youthful seniors, however, are not without their challenges. Striving to stay healthy is a common one and it requires making choices. “Foods I used to love, now cause inflammation and pain, and finding the willpower to eat more healthily is my challenge”, commented Rita. Maintaining good health also requires an exercise regime. Craig, at 65 does Tai Chi and Zumba Gold. “I need to maintain flexibility and Zumba Gold is great for my cardio-vascular,” he said.
Youthful seniors while striving to remain vibrant are realistic about their own mortality. They witnessed problems the previous generation faced due to a lack of end-of-life planning. In addition, family fights ensued because a will wasn’t in place. “If more people took control of their end of life issues and wishes now, there would be far fewer family feuds after that burdensome job,” said Rita.
The next sector is the middle aged seniors. Like the youthful senior they face their own unique benefits and challenges. Ron and Wendy Moore are in their mid 70’s and while having made no deliberate plans to ‘age in place’ they do live in a rancher style townhouse. They bought their home in the mid 90’s and today’s market has seen the value of it almost triple. Wise investments and a pension have help them to enjoy all that life has to offer. Ron admits that a failing memory is a challenge but having the ability to do what they want, when they want to, makes up for it.
Some middle-aged seniors are not so lucky. Experiencing failing health and living alone has lead to loneliness. “I can’t dance anymore because of my health which upsets me,” said Louise who is 78. “I spend a lot of time alone which I find hard because I’m a social person”, she added. On the plus side, however, she said that she can come and go as she pleases.
Each offered similar advice. “Don’t put off what you want to do. The time goes by so fast and the next thing you know is that it really is too late,” said Louise. Ron and Wendy concur, saying “Do everything you can afford to do before your body will not allow you”.
Lyal Anderson and his wife Sheila at age 87 are aged seniors. They have been married for over 54 years and they enjoy their many memories of yesteryear. They also take delight in each new day.”I like the newness of each day as it breaks,” said Lyal. “Finding new friends and helping others while knowing that each new day is a gift”, he added.
By far the greatest challenge the couple face is staying healthy. They say that while following the doctor’s physical and dietary advice can be difficult, they do reap the reward of staying in reasonably good health.
As a young couple they didn’t think about how long they would live. Lyal admits that in some ways he didn’t plan as wisely as he might have. “I always thought that age is but a number and what I earned was for the day at hand,” he said. On the other hand the couple’s selection of a manufactured home in a senior’s park has worked out well. “With access to good people, access to services, this has been a real success. We live a simple and caring life. We love each other, our neighbours and friends and our families,” he added.
Having lived through each generation Lyal offers some sage advice to all three. “Love the ‘one’ of your life and make plans for both of you. Always be what you can and should be,” he said. To his peers he added. “Your age is your reward; live and love for many more years to come.”