Baby boomers redefining what it means to be a senior

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Senior Couple Exercising In Park

Experts weigh in

“Sixty is not considered old age in an academic setting or clinical setting. Even 65 is a young older person.”

-- Dr. Rebecca Wojcik, associate professor and physical therapy department chairman at Governors State University in University Park, Ill.

“We’re living longer. The median life expectancy is going up and because of that the median retirement age and Social Security age has gone up.”

-- Dr. Michael LaPointe, an assistant professor of biology at Indiana University Northwest in Gary, Ind.

“Seniors are more active and understand the need to keep exercise as part of a regular routine in order to continue to do the things they love and to continue to do the things they love longer.”

-- Carol Teteak, fitness coordinator at Edward Health & Fitness Center in Woodridge

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As much as people have tried over the course of civilization to find a way to impede Father Time, the aging process can’t be stopped. Getter older is a fact of life.

But it’s possible that today’s seniors are living better than a couple hundred years ago. Is age 60 the new 50?

Talk to experts who study aging and the answer is yes and no. They stress many factors will influence how smooth the aging process will be for baby boomers and subsequent generations.

Quality of life

Many seniors are deciding that age is just a number, and not the cue to live a sedentary lifestyle.

Linda Lavoie, who is director of sales and marketing for Chestnut Square at The Glen, a senior living residence in Glenview, has seen it.

“Some of our residents still work full time, some volunteer at hospitals. They do service projects. They exercise every day,” she said. “They’re Internet savvy and they’re dressing much younger.”

For aging adults, their 60s can be a time of significant change.

“People in their early 60s are retiring and beginning to look immediately (for a place like Chestnut Square),” Lavoie said.

“They’re downsizing from a larger to a smaller house. It’s time to get rid of the clutter,” said Jordan Kagan of Kagan & Company of Northbrook.

Dr. Susan Hughes, a professor of community health sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago and co-director of UIC’s Institute for Health Research and Policy — Center for Research on Health and Aging, says education, physical activity, quality of health care and even how communities are designed are just some of the factors that play into how this particular age bracket will grow older.

“This age group tends to have educational advantages and will have a better quality of life as medical and technical advantages improve the quality of life for substantial numbers,” she said.

Impact of exercise

Hughes stresses that the rise of obesity in the United States is capable of bringing down the quality of life for baby boomers and the generations that are following them.

“The level of obesity among middle age adults is definitely a cloud on the horizon,” Hughes said.

Much of Hughes’ work deals with the relationship between exercise and aging.

She cited statistics that state just 31 percent of people ages 60 to 64 engage in at least 20 minutes of moderate exercise three or more days a week. That number goes down to 16 percent when talking about more vigorous exercise five days a week.

The effects of exercise on an older person were evident in Fit and Strong, a program designed by Hughes. The eight-week physical activity/behavior change program focused on older adults with arthritis

“Exercise is important for cardiovascular health, but strength training is huge for older people and can help prevent falls and their related injuries,” she said.

Even how a community is design can affect the quality of life of people who are getting older. Hughes speaks of her hometown of Evanston where she said older residents have easy access to what they want and need.

“You can walk to everything,” she said.

Smart choices

Geriatrician Dr. Cheryl Woodson, who directs the Woodson Center for Adult Healthcare in Chicago Heights, has some preventive care recommendations for seniors.

She advises people who are 60 to get a shingles vaccine if they’ve had chicken pox to avoid the pain and discomfort of that disease. And if they are sexually active, she reminds them to practice safe sex. She said age 60 and over is one of the fastest-growing groups for developing HIV.

Also don’t underestimate the importance of staying mentally fit.

“And with your brain, (you) use it or lose it,” she said.

Baby boomers should also be aware of their financial health.

“I think a cursory review of your financial situation by a core team of a financial planner, tax attorney and elder care attorney will make sure your bases are covered. It’s important to pay attention to what’s
coming down the pike,” said Kimberly Reed of Northbrook-based Reed Law Associates P.C., which specializes in elder law.