Purchased a FORA.tv video on another website? Login here with the temporary account credentials included in your receipt.
Sign up today to receive our weekly newsletter and special announcements.
Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to Book Passage, thank you for coming here this afternoon thank you for supporting your local, independent book store. I am Susan Leipzig, it's my pleasure to introduce Dr. Lillian Rubin today and you have probably noticed the camera over in the corner. This is being recorded by FORA.tv. So if any of your friends have missed today, you can go on the computer and you can go to FORA.tv and see it all over again. That way I get to see myself. "60 On Up" is our book "The Truth About Aging in America" and our author is Dr. Lillian Rubin. Lillian Rubin, as you may know is an internationally known writer and lecturer who have published 12 books. Is it 12 or is it 13? No, 12 okay over the last 30 years. She recently sold her first painting when she was 82; that was last year. Americans keep getting older. That's the good news or is it? Her new book deals with the illusions we have about age and the aging process. The book is aimed at the millions of baby boomers who are moving into their sixties. People like me, at age 68, described as young/old. It's a very personal book dealing with social issues, medical issues and topics such as how long old age lasts. Dr. Rubin lives and works in San Francisco and we are thrilled to have her here today. So please welcome Dr. Lillian Rubin. The opening line of this book is "Getting old sucks". It always has and it always will what do you want what? You want me closer to the mike. Oh, okay. Now, you know I say that and I think yeah, yeah, I know some of you are thinking about all the new books and articles you have read about this wonderful new old age, about how 40s, 60's the new 40, 80's is the new 60. And I can only conclude that they are either written by 35 or 40 year old. Like children afraid of the dark, they are trying to convince themselves that there are no unseen monsters around. Or else they are lying. That may be too harsh a word and it probably is may be it's not a lie, may be it's a wish, a hope, the need to believe that there is something else ahead. I am reminded of Betty Friedan's visit to San Francisco shortly after she left after she published "The Fountain of Age". She was on a book tour. It was a book proclaiming that old age is a vital time of life, exactly the time when she could not walk two blocks from the hotel to the restaurant where we would have lunch. So I couldn't help noting the irony and as I helped her at the to sit at the table, I said, may be a little meanly, "Fountain of age huh Betty?" And she shrugged and she said, "What would you like me to write? That it sucks, there has got to be more than that." Now I I agree that old age can be a vital time; that there is such a thing as vitality in old age. It just seems to me to be half the story. And I don't quarrel with anyone's argument that the focus on age has been far too much in the sense of decline. But the truth is that old age is is both a sense of it is a decline and a sense of loss. And even now when old age isn't what it used to be, and to deny that, to look away from that reality is truly to do a disservice to ourselves. If you have been alive and functioning over the last few years, you know that aging and all that goes with it is big news now. Everyday it seems there is another chirpy good news story about the new old age and about how age doesn't count any more. Now any minute I expect them to tell us that a 100 is middle age and some of us will believe it, believe it or not. Now, sure, in some ways the age is a state of mind. But then so is sex. It doesn't mean it's not real. And then of course there is the latest notion that ageing is a curable disease, just ask anyone of the 20,000 so physicians who are members of a recently formed American Academy of Ageing, and their website says that their mission is to confront and I quote "The arcane outmoded stance that ageing is natural and inevitable. Ageing is a treatable medical disease and the disabilities associated with normal ageing are caused by physiological dysfunction. Never mind that the AMA doesn't recognize anti ageing as a legitimate measure medical specialty, never mind either that they don't give any credibility to either the organization or its claims. This is big business folks and it's not going away so long as there are people willing to pay a fortune to find what Ponce de LeÃƒÆ’Ã†â€™Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â³n was looking for a half a millennium ago. Poor guy, all he got was Florida and that's about the best they are going to get too. It makes you wonder, doesn't it who are these people dream up the stuff, what planet do they live on? How did they miss the 60 year olds with the iffy back, the tricky knees, the all the aches and pains that are the province of 60 year old bodies. Not to mention all the conflicts about age that occupies their minds. The fact is age still counts and given our biology, our psychology and the society we live in, that's not likely to change. It's true that doesn't count in the fixed and firm ways it used to and not certainly not in the same way it counted even half a century ago. But it counts both in the external world and in the internal world, in the society, in the body and in the mind. A core maxim of social psychology is what we think about a person influences how we see him, how we see him affects how we behave toward him and how we behave toward him ultimately shapes how we feels about himself. No where is this more true than among the old. Socially old age is still an abomination. You think that's too strong a word, well may be it is. But ask yourself when was the last time you looked at some old person who is shuffling and then shuffling without looking away and thinking, "Oh my god I am glad that's not me." Ask yourself when was the last time you looked in the mirror and thought that's not the me I have always known. And what tempted to run out to the nearest cosmetic counter to buy the cream you just read about or worse yet not worse yet, I shouldn't say that everyone has a right to their choice, to submit to the surgeon's knife in the hope that you look like you again. I know that with those of us who are old or on the cusp of old age there are more possibilities today than any generation before ever had. And I am really grateful for them. But I also know and I suspect most people do, that getting old sucks, especially when it lasts so long. Imagine it; at the beginning of the 20th Century the median age of death was 49. Today it's 80 and rising rapidly. These aren't just cold statistics. They add up to a whole new stage of life, one that never existed before and there is no map to show us how to navigate it. It's a demographic miracle that has the makings of a social and psychological disaster, because it isn't only the old who are affected by a life that like the Energizer Bunny keeps going and going and going. This single demographic fact ricochets around our society like a bullet in an echo chamber. And it undergirds the most important social and cultural changes of our time and it's revolutionizing both the public and the private sphere. Everything changes when we live so long, not just when we die, but how we lived. When and how we moved through the various stages of life, whether its adolescence, adulthood, middle age or old age. And as always in these life affairs there is no free lunch. So while our new longevity opens up enormous possibilities, it also brings with it problems for the people who are living it, for the society, for their families, for all of us. So here is a headline, "Middle age adults today may well spent more years caring for their parents than they did for their children." Now just think about how topsy-turvy that is. More than one third of 65 year olds suffer some physical ailment that limit their activities, which means that right now as I am speaking, significant numbers of adult children are caring for one or more parent. And the numbers rise exponentially as we go up the age scale. Okay, so what, you say there is nothing new about that. Adult children have always taken care of their aged parents. Then why we really have to say it's the new longevity stupid, you know, it's that's the issue. It isn't just that we are old. Do we get we get old we always got old. But now we have 20 to 30 years to live with that reality. It's so it makes for a whole new set of complications when a 50 year old is taking care of her 70 year old parents and when 70 year old are caring for 90 year olds, all with no clear end in sight. Think it my daughter is like, my god, no. Of course she is already doing it. Almost inevitably giving up these years to care for a parent is met with a storm of conflicting feelings as children, sometimes with their own children that are still it home, sometimes on the cusp of their old age, and sometimes in it, see their years slipping by without the pleasures and comforts they would imagine of this time of life. For parents the pain of growing of giving over some part of their autonomy, to have it for having to depend on their children whether that for part or full time support, for financial support or even just for a Costco run can be humiliating. Even when parents don't need physical care, the children feel burdened by concern for them so that we now have what novelist James Atlas calls a whole new cohort of anxious children of the elderly, which not surprisingly creates a whole new set of generational conflicts, when the children worries turn into hovering, or worse yet, trying to plan their children' lives. So for example I've got lots of stories like this. I could keep you entertain the whole afternoon with these family stories. A 57 year old daughter keeps pushing her 80 something parents to move to assisted living and leave the house they've lived in 40 years, not just because she thinks its best but also because she want some relief from the worry and the responsibility, it makes sense. Her parents appreciate the concern, but they manage to sabotage every suggestion she makes. So she takes them to an assisted living facility one after the other and they find something wrong with one every time, the rooms are too small, the food is mediocre, the residents get this one are too old, that's standard. I know what they feel like I would feel I feel same way when I walk into those places, I think that's not me, I am I don't belong here, they are too old. She complaints to me that they are picky, inconsiderate, don't appreciate the time and energy she has devoted to the project and her parents who feel unheard, disrespected, intruded upon and angry, shrug and say to me, I am sorry if she is upset, but this is her project, not ours which brings to me to another headline. "The story of aging in our time is a tale of yes-buts." Yes, the fact that we are staying younger while getting older, that we live longer, healthier lives is something to celebrate. But it's not without discourse, both public and private. Yes the definition of old has been pushed back, but no matter where we place it our social attitudes and private angst about getting old remain intact. I wrote an article a couple of years ago called "What am I going to do with the rest of my life?" It's a refrain I hear often, very often, from people who either retired or contemplating retirement. This is un- chartered territory. We look forward to retirement in the belief that we will finally get to live for ourselves, to follow our dreams, to do all the things we couldn't do when we live when we were working 40, 60, 80 hours a week. Then when we get there it turns out to be a mixed blessing precisely because we live so long. Yet, few are asking the big questions. How will we live all the years we now have left? What will we do with them? Or who we would become? What will sustain us emotionally, physically spiritually, economically? These not just whether they all break the social security bank the central questions of aging in our time. But what about all all we hear today about all the old being better off financially than they ever were before. Well, that's true. But only because they were so much worse off before now. The real story is that except for the very wealthy even people who have come to retirement with substantial savings and investments, will likely find themselves running out of money before the years do. Children who live their daily life assured that their parents would have enough to take care of themselves suddenly find themselves going into debt to care for their parents, because the parents have outlived their resources. Others who didn't plan for the future because they knew their parents were well off and that they would would come into a substantial inheritance are now finding themselves with 85 and 90 year old parents who are spending their capital just to sustain themselves and if they live much longer, these same children will are worrying now about having to support them when they cannot figure out how they will support themselves. Contemplating that reality one New York Times reporter was courageous enough to speak publicly about his feelings and I am going to read this. "When caring for an aging parent, irreproachable selfishness doesn't come easily", he writes, "I hate to admit it, but there were plenty of moments during the last year of my father's life when I was consumed with an invisible ledger in my brain. My inheritance versus his health cost." And then he goes on to document those health costs. You know, 10,000 a week for this, 20,000 for that and so on. But whatever their financial situation, the question that plagues most people when who face retirement and the years ahead is "Now what?" About one quarter of people between 65 and 74 either stay in the workforce, that's almost always the high level professionals whose work is brings them great deal of life satisfaction, or by returning to the workforce after a couple of years in retirement, often a job that's well below their status and abilities. Sometimes their financial situation is a contributor to the decision to go back to work. The extra money helps, they say. Sometimes it's psychological issues that send them back. How often do you play golf one guy said to me I felt like I wasn't living a life anymore. Most of the time it's some combination of the two. The economic issue is obviously pretty straightforward. They didn't count on living so long. So they don't have enough money to stay in the retirement in any degree of comfort. The psychology of course is always is more complex, but you can sum it up in a couple of words meaning and self. After a life in which work structures our days, defines who we are and signals that we had a place in the world, it's hard to find meaning in the idle days of retirement. Even when we manage to keep very busy and you might those of you who are retired and those of you who know people who are retired know how busy we retired people are. We are busier than they were when we worked in some ways because we have all these time to fill and so we fill it with busyness. The word itself "retirement" has come to have a negative charge. Even some one like Robert Butler who was the founding director of National Institute of Aging, a Pulitzer Prize winner and now he is head of the International Longevity Center, resists what he calls the "R" word because in his words, it's a synonym for over the hill. But what about those retirement communities, now discretely labeled as adult living community so that no one has to confront the "R" word. Admittedly I have a jaundiced view of those places even before I started to hang around in them. But as I watched and listen to people, talking about the wonders of their new life, about how they are hula dancing and tap dancing and partying all the time, I began to see a more complicated picture. On the one hand it's hard to watch this level of frantic activity without wondering what's going on behind it. I don't want to dismiss the experience of others with psychological interpretations, but I can't help asking, how much of the fun is a near desperate attempt to fill up lives that have lost so much of their meaning? How much is the fear of facing their mortality, how much is pure escape from the realities they have to face if they slow down to contemplate them? There is nothing wrong with any of that. But these are surely worth these questions are surely worth asking. My questions not withstanding, I also believe that given the indignities of ageing in the society, retirement communities serve an important function for those of who choose to live in them. They move from a world where age is stigma, to a place where they no longer have to worry about their age, a world where they have celebrated and accepted for who they are. Who wouldn't like that? They go from a world where the cocktail party question "du jour" is what do you do, to one where people aren't supposed to ask. Who wouldn't feel better there? Yet none of it changes none of that changes the poignant exchange I overheard when visiting one of these communities recently. Two men were leading a lunch time performance by a local dance group and as they passed me, I heard one say to the other, "Well that killed a couple of hours and now what?" His companion sighed and said, "Don't know, we already shot nine this morning." So where do the idea of the golden years come from? Is it just media hype? Partly, but may be also when we only had a few years after retirement, the relief from a lifetime of work and tight schedules, the freedom to allow themselves to expand fully into the space they inhabit, to take up activities they never had time for before, did indeed make these years golden. But retirement today is another one of those mixed blessings precisely because we live so long. We finally achieved the goals the we looked forward to, only to find that it wasn't the destination that gave that gave life its meaning and continuity, but the journey itself. That's the dilemma of the new longevity. The journey continues but to what end. I think I think I want to say a few more things. I haven't touched on a lot of stuff, you know, sex and its meaning, friendship and how it changes, the push-pull between engagement and disengagement that comes as we that wars inside us as we age and not least the issues of death and dying, where I argued with that when we capitulate to the fear and denial of death, we forfeit some of the pleasure of living for the illusion of immortality and cheat ourselves of what it means to be fully alive. But I have one more headline. "78" this is for those of you who have children, who are baby boomers or who are yourselves baby boomers, "78 million baby boomers, that's 26 percent of the current population, will enter the ranks of the over 65s in the next two decades." For those boomers who may be listening to me or who may ever read these words, I have a message. You can go on believing all the cheery good news about the next stage of life that you eat right, sleep right, exercise your body and your brain right, you will never get really old. Or you can take a good, long, hard look at the realities of social and personal ageing I've described and begin now to plan for the fact that you probably have another 20 or 30 years left to live. Right now your are living in a country that's just unprepared for your old age as as you are. A country where the economists and the policy analysts worry that you are "the monster at the door that threatens to bring the nations to its economic knees and that will drain Medicare and the social and it breaks the social security bank." Believe me, you read this stuff, that is all they worry about. Whatever the merit of the these worst fear scenarios are one thing is certain, without major changes in social priorities, public policy and a culture with a long history of deeply ingrained prejudices against the old, you will find yourself coping with the social and personal vicissitudes of this new old age without any help from any quarter. Again, Robert Butler arguing the nations, if not the world's most foremost scholar of aging, says of the impending old age of the baby boomers. The baby boomers, he says, are in for a hell of a time. They are quite frankly a generation at risk. As he speaks today he is right. But it doesn't have to be that way. You can't say as you did once about a war you refused to fight, hell no, because this time you have no choice but to go. But you can certainly raise that banner under which you transformed the cultural phase of America, "the personal is political." For nothing has ever been more personal than the long years ahead, nor have there ever been more political opportunities for you to do something about it. Your numbers alone if you organize into collective action, give you the power to seriously dent if not fully change the cultural assumptions and social policy that now dominate ageing in the 21st Century. Thank you.