"Give us your gold, and never grow old!"
Novelist, science writer, poet and children's book author Judith Viorst has humorously chronicled the aging process for several decades (It's Hard To Be Hip Over Thirty; How Did I Get To Be Forty; Forever Fifty; Suddenly Sixty; I'm Too Young To Be Seventy; and Unexpectedly Eighty, all of which you can find if you follow the link in her name). Recently she wrote a review of a new book by Susan Jacoby, Never Say Die: The Myth and Marketing of the New Old Age. At the outset of her review Viorst provocatively sums up the problems Jacoby's book examines:
Forget about those dreams of dropping dead on the tennis court, or in a lover's arms, at age 95. Such happy endings could happen to us, but the odds are great that they won't, in spite of how frisky we currently feel and in spite of our dedication to a vegetable-eating, non-smoking, moderate-drinking, daily-exercising life style.
Instead, if we live long enough to join the ranks of what are called the "old old"- the late 80s and the 90s and beyond - we are likely to become (choose several of the following) socially useless, financially strapped, physically disabled, mentally impaired, desperately lonely and demeaningly dependent. But even if we have already previewed the miseries lying ahead by having seen our parents' sorry decline, we might be tempted to tell ourselves that their fate need not be ours, tempted to believe that by the time we reach their age, 90 will be "the new fifty."
Despite the great advances in science in the past couple of decades, ninety is certainly not "the new fifty" now and it may never be, and for most people it's probably stretching things quite a bit to say that fifty is "the new thirty." In some respects we've made progress in our attitudes towards aging and the aged, but things are only marginally better overall, especially for the oldest, sickest, and poorest among us. Viorst continues:
...Jacoby grants that, in the past, older women and men were the victims of negative stereotypes and too readily devalued and dismissed. But she sees the reversal in attitude over the last 40 years as a misleading and damaging correction, with the "hucksters of longevity" purveying the untruth that no one need fear growing old anymore because science - any day now - is going to fix whatever it is that ails us.
Not so, says Jacoby, supporting her arguments eloquently and persuasively with historical, sociological, scientific and economic research. For, contrary to all the media hype, age is not just a number. Almost half of Americans living past age 85 will suffer from Alzheimer's. Fifty percent will wind up in a nursing home. And only 25 percent of Americans living past age 65 have annual incomes of over $33,667. Furthermore, by the year 2030 some 70 million Americans will be older than 65, making up 20 percent of the population, compared with 13 percent today. And among that 70 million will be 8.5 million people over age 85, the over-85ers being the fastest growing part of our population.
Jeez, that sounds pretty grim. Indeed, as Viorst explains:.
Jacoby is well aware that some - many, I suspect - will object to her grim view and will question why she so passionately insists on debunking the myth of a healthier, happier, vastly improved "new old age." In response, she cites the late, great gerontologist Robert Butler, first director of the Institute on Aging, who cautioned, "I'd love nothing more than to wake up one morning and read a newspaper article announcing a cure for Alzheimer's. But we have to plan for aging as it is - not as it might be if a magic potion appears. . . ." Jacoby adds, "Only when we abandon the fantasy of beating old age . . . will we be able to develop more humane ways of caring" for the oldest members of our society.
A couple of readers on Amazon concur that Jacoby's book is overly pessimistic and downright depressing, and at least one has opined that even though he agrees with her assessment of the problems, he thinks her proposed solutions rely too heavily on an already grievously over-strained government (a government that, I might add, is growing increasingly hostile to social programs of any type).
Others still prefer to take the view that things really are getting better. After all, the thinking goes, baby boomers have always been agents of change, and they're continuing to be so now that the first boomers are hitting the age of 65, as this NPR piece attempts to illustrate.
Even so, folks in their sixties are still generally considered to be the "young old." What about the "old old" -- those eighty and over? Things get kind of dicey then, and some people are coming up with creative, if dubious, solutions. For example, for those who are currently dealing with aging loved ones, or who are rapidly becoming an aging loved one themselves, there are "Granny pods." These are freestanding, less-than-300-square-foot storage sheds for old folks -- high-tech, medically equipped, even vaguely homelike, yes, but storage sheds nonetheless. But the good news is that you can plunk 'em down right in your back yard... that is, if you have a back yard, and provided your NIMBY neighbors and your city's zoning committee don't nix the idea. The plan is to offer the pods for lease for about $2,000 a month, which, though considerably less than most nursing homes or various assisted-living facilities, is still not cheap. But the inventor hopes that insurance will cover the cost. If you can't afford insurance and don't have 2k a month to spare, though, you're probably SOL.
Right about now you might be asking, "Cosmic Connie, are you trying to insert a new wrinkle into your Whirled? Or are you just trying to confuse us? Just what does all of the above have to do with the normal (or at least as 'normal' as it gets around here) subject matter of this blog?"
Do you really have to ask?
Given the real possibility of a future where an enormous percentage of the population will be too old and frail and, most importantly, too freaking poor to purchase frauducts or attend workshops and conferences, there is no shortage of hustledorks and con artists who see the need to mine the bucks while the mining is still reasonably good. There are, after all, quite a few baby boomers, Gen Jones-ers, and even some of the older Gen-X'ers who still possess the magical combination of discretionary income and a growing horror of the future -- making them ripe not only for the folks Salty Droid writes about (e.g., the Internet Marketing Syndicate, the Utah boiler-room scammers, and their allies, such as Utah's attorney general Mark Shurtleff), but also for the "hucksters of longevity" whom Susan Jacoby decries.
Deepak Chopra, for instance, sniffed an op nearly a generation ago and was on it like Jason Biggs on a warm apple pie. Chopra came out with Ageless Body, Timeless Mind: The Quantum Alternative to Growing Old in the early 1990s. Since then he has created numerous other anti-aging books, audio/video products, and supplements, and has long been a presence in the longevity community.
Then there's Dr. Mehmet Oz... need I say more? He's EVERYWHERE these days.
Even some of the New-Wage gurus who don't necessarily make a living doling out health advice are voracious "health" consumers. James "Death" Ray, to name but one example, has been a big longevity nut for years, as evidenced by the suitcase full of supplements that investigators found in his room after the Sedona tragedy. He apparently viewed this extravagant consumption as taking "personal responsibility" for his own health, as implied in this piece for Huffington Post, written nearly a month after Colleen Conaway died at his San Diego event, and six weeks before Kirby Brown, James Shore, and Liz Neuman died in his Sedona sweat lodge. (The rich irony of his using the HuffPost piece as a pulpit to chastise the rest of us to take personal responsibility still resonates. Too bad comments are closed for that post...)
In the New-Wage minor leagues we have people such as Wendy Down. Wendy is teaching something called "Youthening," which, of course, is the opposite of Aging. Among other things she has created some download audios that "are short and mostly silent," except for some gentle music to let you know the recording is "on." (Which is kind of reminiscent of Jo Dunning's "silent" CD, except Wendy's stuff at least has music.) In any case the silence is deceptive, Wendy implies, for she is actually applying the "technology of emotion" to the listener's state of youthfulness. "On the Recordings, I hold various states feelings (states of emotion) in which experiencing yourself as youthful is 'already done,'" she explains. If you follow the "Youthening" link at the beginning of this paragraph, be sure you watch the video clip of New-Wage huckster Gregg Braden, who claims that the "technology of emotion" is capable of curing cancer.
But back to anti-aging. Actually, the conspicuously enlightened know that the concept of anti-aging is pretty negative, and negative thinking only makes you sick and old. That's why the good people at The Satori Method, a "Mind Body Spirit Transformation Academy" (motto: "Big Awakening, Big Energy, Big Life!") have come up with the concept of "Pro-Youthing." And they're putting on a whole big three-day gullibalooza summit around it in Austin, beginning on April Fools Day. Joe "Mr. Fire" Vitale will be among those speaking.
The headline in the full-page ad I saw in Austin All Natural Magazine (page 5) addresses the aging doomsayers' concerns head-on.
"Just Because You Age, Doesn't Mean
You Have To Get Old Or Go Broke!"
The copy for this ad has "Joe Vitale" written all over it. Or at least it has "someone who attended the Joe Vitale school of copywriting" all over it.
Directly under the headline, we are promised that the upcoming Pro-Youthing Summit will enable us to "Learn Surprisingly Simple, Shockingly Powerful, And Amazingly Easy Techniques to Reclaim Your Youthfulness and Live a Big Life!"
This is followed by a checklist of some of those amazingly easy and shockingly powerful things we'll learn:
- Discover the formula for quickly losing pounds while increasing muscle mass and your metabolism! NOTE: Most weight loss techniques backfire; this is the best way to keep the fat off AND look great!
- How living and thinking "as if" is essential to filling your life with everything you want! We'll show you how to easily and effectively create vibrant health, abundant wealth & beautiful relationships. [So much for all that "hard work and "inspired action" the gurus have been touting in rebuttal to those who accuse them of promoting magical thinking and sitting on your butt. ~CLS]
- How we stumbled onto a highly "magnetic energy source" that builds massive amounts of life force in your body -- and how you can easily tap into this healing energy and feel it flowing in your hands!
- Our surprising "behind the curtain" secrets to super-human strength and vitality. (WARNING: These are the techniques doctors don't want you to know...because you'll actually get better!) [Shades of Kevin True-dough... or his buddy Leonard Coldwell (a not-medical-doc who claims to have discovered the cure for cancer). Those darned doctors again... always out for themselves. ~CLS]
- Why it's 100% true that you can reverse your age. Once you get this you can request every cell of your body to regenerate and recharge your life, from the inside out!
- The simple, step-by-step process to assure you direct the power of the Law of Attraction to build your prosperity. It's simple, and fast -- you can do it in as little as 5 minutes a session.
[Fake scarcity alert] If you act now, you can get into this Summit for only $297, which is three hundred whole American dollars off the reg'lar price. But you must act quickly, because only 100 people will get to take advantage of this "Early Bird Special." So save your seat NOW, if not sooner, because this event will sell out!
And you, Dear Ones, will have to shell out, one way or another, if you want to fight old age and the Grim Reaper. You can do it, at least until your money runs out, with modern Western medicine, which fosters dependency on a bewildering host of medical specialists, an array of horrendously expensive and side-effect-inducing Rx meds, and even more horrendously expensive hospitalizations at the slightest hint of a sniffle or a urinary-tract infection. I am certainly not trying to vilify Western medicine, but in recent years I have seen what passes for elder care in our society up close and personal, have witnessed the sad ruins of The Greatest Generation wasting away in the halls of nursing homes and hospitals and extended-care facilities...and it isn't pleasant.
Alternatively, so to speak, you can dodge the Reaper -- again, at least till your money runs out -- with the help of various "alt-med" modalities and the inevitable anti-aging, pro-youthing infomercial hustledorks and online scammers, with their endless offerings of "breakthrough" books and expensive supplements and proprietary programs and workshops.
Isn't it great to have choices?*
Meanwhile, Mother Nature continues on her merry way, with little apparent regard for the aging and the infirm. As Garrison Keillor wrote in a Salon.com piece a few years back, "Nature is about continuation of the species -- in other words, children. Nature does not care about the emotional well-being of older people." Nor, he might have added, does nature give a hoot for their physical well-being.
So in the end, it really is up to us to do what we can to make our lives better, at all stages of life, and not piss Mother off too much, lest she throw us off the boat, or shake us off like a dog shakes off a bad set of fleas (as the late George Carlin would have said). And it is up to us as well to take care of the most helpless members of society: the very young and the very old. I'm not real happy with some of what traditional medicine has to offer, but, in case it isn't obvious, I don't think the LOA h-dorks with their frauducts and flopportunities, their promises of "magnetic energy sources," and their advice to "request every cell of your body to regenerate and recharge your life," are the way to go either.
Is there a happy medium somewhere? Maybe so, and perhaps Judith Viorst touches on it as she summarizes Susan Jacoby's advice for the "old old" (and those who soon will be). After offering a few practical suggestions to stay as useful and active as possible for as long as possible, Viorst, paraphrasing Jacoby, adds:
Don't feel that aging successfully requires you to be a serene, above-it-all, smiley-faced optimist. If what you really are is a "discontented work in progress," go for it. And, if you can do so, find some pleasure in the world as it actually is, without counting on the imminent triumphs of science to allow you to be skydiving in your 90s.
Yeah, what she said. And for good measure, here's a common-sense blog post about healthy aging from an M.D.
No matter how old or how young you are, there's nothing wrong with trying to hold on tight to your dream, as the old ELO song advised, but you'd better hold on tight to your wallet as well. And if the phone rings and it's Utah calling, don't answer.
* Note: I realize that there is a great deal of ongoing legitimate anti-aging/longevity research, and that there are actual M.D.s who practice "anti-aging medicine" (including hormone replacement therapies of various types), which would seem to present another happy medium between the rather depressing "traditional" medical model I described above and New-Wage infomercial/boiler room hucksterism. (And M.D.s such as Dr. Oz seem to be exploiting the best of both worlds, drawing equally from medicine-based anti-aging protocols and more woo-ish material.) Even so, to take advantage of the latest in longevity research still requires one to spend money, and sometimes a lot of money, especially since many of the protocols aren't covered by insurance.