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How to Age Well

Last update on: Feb 02 2017

Baby Boomers are the most depressed adult age group in the country, says an article in The Atlantic. The article focuses on women, but what it says applies to men, though it says women have more depression thanmen. Baby Boomers women shouldn’t be depressed, because they’ve been a special generation. Women, in particular, had more opportunities than previous generations of women. They should be satisfied and happy and looking forward to happy, healthy seniors years. But that isn’t the case.

The baby boomers are becoming characterized by startlingly high rates of depression and pessimism. Boomers are more depressed and less satisfied with their lives than both those who are older and younger than them, according to a study published in the American Sociological Review in 2008.

Women, in particular, are suffering. In the American population generally, women tend to be more depressive than men, and this is true of the boomers as well. In 2008, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that between 1999 and 2004, rates of suicide increased by 20 percent for 45-to-54-year-olds, a far greater increase than that experienced in nearly every other age group. Among women who were 45-to-54-year-olds, the increase was a staggering 31 percent. Suicide aside, boomers have found another way to cope with their doldrums: according to the National Institute of Health, between 2002 and 2011, the number of illicit drugs users aged 50 to 59 tripled.

There’s no reason for the Baby Boomers to be depressed in retirement or their senior years. They only need to look at previous generations of retirees and learn from them. We’ve discussed the important factors in detail in past issues of Retirement Watch, and they haven’t changed.

For a successful retirement, you need several features. You need to stay active and engaged in activities. Retirement doesn’t mean sitting around doing nothing. Instead of staying at the same job or career, you can be involved in volunteer activities, school, church, or a part-time job, for just a few examples. You also need a community where you are socially engaged and involved. This is very important. It can be just a few close friends with whom you regularly interact, or it can be a larger group or several groups. Finally, learn to accept and revel in the post-middle-age years. One theory is that many of the depressed people are pining for their youth or mourning over missed expectations.

[B]anish the thought of “retirement.” The women Cole spoke to, she said, are engaged as ever and doing meaningful work—whether volunteering, being with their grand kids, or working for pay. Just because you’re eligible for Medicare and Social Security doesn’t mean that you should stop working.

To understand the importance of this, consider the case of Okinawa, Japan, one of the world’s “Blue Zones,” the world’s densest clusters of centenarians where the elderly have been remarkably successful at aging. Okinawa has the largest percentage of female centenarians in the world. In the U.S., there are 10-20 centenarians per 100,000 people; in Okinawa, there are 50 per 100,000, and 90 percent of them are women. The centenarians have one fifth the rate of certain cancers and heart disease, which kill 75 percent of Americans over 65.

In Okinawa, as in other Blue Zones, the idea that the elderly retreat into idleness in the mid-sixties, becoming dependents, is anathema. Rather, they are governed by a principle called Ikigai, rougly translated as the reason they wake up in the morning—their purpose.



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