Sunday, January 20, 2013

The View from Late Middle Age

Dear George,
A friend of mine occasionally claims I’m a master of the art of denial.  That’s so untrue.   Like everybody else, I do reject most ideas when they don’t fit my preconceptions.  However, I’m in crystal clear contact with reality the rest of the time. 

A good example is the topic of aging.  Fifteen years ago (as I was turning sixty) I remarked to one of my psychology colleagues that I was starting to show some signs of middle age.  He looked at me sort of funny and said that it had been a long time since I’d seen middle age.  That was a new (and troubling) idea, and I gave the matter some serious thought.  Eventually I concluded that my colleague was confused.  Life stages are slippery, and it’s not simply a matter of some objective number of years.  The difference between one life stage and the next, e.g., middle age and old age, has less to do with how long you’ve lived, more to do with qualitative changes in mind, body, and behavior.  As they say, you’re only as old as you’d like to be.  

To get a better handle on exactly where I am in the life course, I designed an objective test which measures whether one has entered “old age”.  The ten items (with a yes-no response format) are as follows:

·       Do you have more trouble climbing the stairs?
·       Do you usually wear Depends when going out for pizza?
·       Do your children subtly hint that you should move to a nursing home?
·       Do you have a pacemaker?
·       Do you wear a hearing aid (or two)?
·       Do you regularly lose your car keys, credit cards, and toothbrush?
·       Are you too creaky to get out of bed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays?
·       Are you afraid to leave the house because of your fear of germs on doorknobs?
·       Do you forget family members’ telephone numbers (and/or their names)?
·       Do strangers on the street stop you and ask if you’re all right?

Assigning a 1 for “Yes” and a 0 for “No”, I figure that a score of 3 means you’re on the cusp of old age, and a 7 confirms it.  For myself, I wound up with a score of zero.  That was exactly the same score as if I’d taken the test 40 years ago.  The implication seems obvious.  I’m functioning at the same level now as when I was 35 (e.g., mildly confused then; mildly confused now).  After several years of working out at the gym, my muscle tone seems about the same.  And I don’t seem to be any more subject to illnesses or physical maladies than I used to be.  So I guess not only are we living longer these days, but middle age apparently lasts two or three times as long as it used to.

Just like everything else, it makes sense to think of one’s life as having a beginning, a middle, and an end.  The beginning lasts up to somewhere around early adolescence, about the time that males start to get the first signs of fuzz on their cheeks.  The end stage varies dramatically, depending on whether one has begun the process of ending or not.  And all the rest of it is the middle.  Sometimes the middle can go on practically forever. For myself, I’d have to conclude (as my objective test results prove) that I’m still in the midst of middle-age.  Maybe it’s best to think of it as late middle age, but it’s middle age nonetheless.  This also seems to be true for most of my relatives and friends.   I’m going to explain this to my friend who has the mistaken impression that I’m prone to denial.  I think my careful reasoning will demonstrate that I’m in excellent touch with the facts.

G-mail Comments
-Linda C (1-20): David. Mine was 0 also, when I told a doctor ( not the ones we know) that I did not take the revived up super flu vaccine he asked  me why I didn't chose it.  I said no need since I don't feel like I am immune depressed.  He suggested, nicely , that next year I should take super dose because even tho I felt good I was with out a doubt on my way to being immune suppressed because of age, I call it immune depressed.I was not happy with his accusations that I was immune suppressed. Did my research and sent immune depressing article to you.  I sent it to K and J also but bet 50$ neither bother to read it.  Have sent it to my friends my age and they are much more interested.  If you didn't get it let me know.  I am finding a gerontologist In Ann arbor next week.  I think I need T cell assessment.  Hello to all love linda
-Donna D (1-20): Oh master this is very interesting and factual.  Your friend's reference however was not one about age but other topics such as relationships, communication, functioning.  Enjoy late middle age!  For you it is going to last a long time. :)

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