Growing whole, not just old

Here's information I find riveting.

Each year, aging adults with a combination of five or more chronic illnesses (which includes 23 percent of Medicare beneficiaries) see, on average, 14 different physicians, make 37 office visits and have 50 prescriptions filled.

Pause for a moment and re-read that last sentence.

Let's make it personal. Let's say you're 65 plus and you have diabetes, hypertension, coronary artery disease, high cholesterol and kidney difficulties. If that's you, or someone you love, you're spending a lot of time "doctoring."

This data was published in the New England Journal of Medicine 10 years ago. As attention-getting as it is, it's an under-representation of physician contact and prescription drug use. If you're driven to know more, look at the publication, "Generations" from the Journal of the American Society on Aging, Fall 2006.

I'm edging toward Medicare eligibility — my husband is already there. When I get my own red, white and blue card, I don't want to spend much time using it, i.e. "doctoring."

I like my doctor and I trust him "¦ and I think pharmacists (and some alternative medicine practitioners) are unheralded healers. But when I'm "old" I hope to have other things to do than be sick.

You're probably thinking, "Just wait, she'll find out what it's really like in a few years." Or perhaps, "Here she goes "¦ about to promote healthy eating and daily exercise — yet again." Or, maybe you're expecting me to cheerlead for the Living Well (chronic disease self-management) programs in the Valley (By the way, calling 864-9611 will get you registered).

I'm not denying we need to pay attention to all of the above, but today that's not my focus. Not this time. I have something else for you to consider — it's not the ailing body, it's the aging spirit.

Many aging adults resist being referred to as "old." They not only don't accept the reality, they negate the premise. I submit to you — that's self-defeating and makes whatever comes with getting older a lot harder.

Let's think about aging like this, using my new-favorite reference, "The Ageless Spirit" by Connie Goldman. It promotes "youthing." I know that term sounds Pollyannaish, but stay open to the intent. Another way of considering this idea: "Grow whole, not old."

I have a single illustration — but I fully intend to gather more. There's a lovely, active 83-year-old woman in this valley. Let's call her Grace. Her philosophy regarding her age is summed up in these words, "Embrace it, my dear. But don't succumb to it." For the record, if you met her, you'd probably acknowledge her vigor and, well, "¦ her grace. But she has at least five chronic health problems — probably more like seven.

The data behind "The Ageless Spirit" reminds us that by 2022, the 50-64 population will increase by 50 percent and the 65+ population will increase by 32 percent. The Generation X and Generation Y populations, combined, will grow by only three percent.

When it comes to being old, there will be more of "us" than "them." That creates both responsibility and opportunity. Let's start by claiming the territory.

Sharon Johnson is an associate professor in health and human sciences at Oregon State University and on the faculty of the OSU Extension. E-mail her at or call 776-7371, Ext. 210.

Share This Story