The Wisdom of the Aged

Posted on January 4, 2016


An alert reader sent Life in the Boomer Lane a link to a New York Times article titled “The Wisdom of the Aged.” Before reading it, LBL was afraid that this article, like many she had read in the past, would ask aged people to what they attributed their long lives. The answers would be things like “I eat salami every day” or “I only wear mismatched socks” or “I have never drunk alcohol, smoked cigarettes, or eaten parsley.” LBL would read these and think that what she, personally, believed that what insured a long life was good genes, a lot of luck, and not watching reruns of “My Mother the Car.”

Luckily, this article went in another direction. As the Times stated, “In New York City, the population age 85 and up has been growing at five times the rate for the city as a whole, doubling since 1980 to about 150,000. For this often invisible population, the first of its size, what does an older life really look like? And can it be better?”

LBL was interested in hearing what these folks had to say. What she found was interesting, for sure. But there were no great pearls of wisdom that would change her own life. Some of the people interviewed were content. Others weren’t. Some were marking time. Others felt they were leading full lives. One 92-year-old “wondered what he was doing in an article with all those old people.” It turns out they were pretty much all over the map in their answers about their lives, just like any other random group of people.

The most interesting story was about Helen, the resident of a nursing home, and her lover, fellow resident Howie. Helen and Howie have been together since 2009, and like, lots of celebs, seem fated to spend their relationship stuck on “Engaged.” They would like to get married, but Helen’s daughter is dead set against the union. “She says if I marry Howie she’ll never visit me again,” Helen said by way of explanation.

So, is older really wiser? The answer, according to one of the researchers, is a “qualified yes: that even as the brain slows down or memory deteriorates, older people are often better decision-makers, recognizing patterns or being more attuned to the effects of their decisions.”

More importantly, do older lives matter? LBL believes that Helen has found the secret of what keeps many older people keeping on: human connection. Whether it comes from family, friends, or a hot relationship, these folks believe that their existence matters to others. Ms. Willig, age 92, sends an email every morning to let her children and grandchildren know she is still alive. That task taken care of, she can turn her attention to what gives her joy: taking care of her plants.