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Growing old is bad but the alternative is worse

Published September 07. 2013 09:00AM

When it comes to aging, baby boomers are putting up a good fight.

The tidal wave of people born between 1946 and 1964 is a group that tries to stay young.

"Years ago, when people turned 40, they're were considered old and they started dressing in old people's clothes," said my mother many years ago.

Our great grandparents were considered old at age 40, and they looked the part.

At that age, women often started wearing black dresses with lace-edge collars, as seen in old family portraits.

But those trends changed with the Greatest Generation. People became more modern and less traditional.

For instance, my grandmother wore stylish, youthful clothes even in her late 80s, and so did my great aunt.

My own generation was never attuned to wearing "old people" clothes.

But there's more to growing old than clothing. The effects of aging are seen in other ways.

There is more stress as we age, and more health issues.

Experts say substance abuse treatment services for older Americans are expected to double over the next seven years.

A study by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration says the rate of illicit drug use among 50 to 59 year-olds has increased 3.1 percent, posing challenges for families in particular and society as a whole.

Maybe that's because aging baby boomers are having trouble coping.

"As baby boomers enter a transitional stage in their lives, new stressors, such as financial strain, grieving the loss of a parent or age-related health issues make them more prone to depression and anxiety," says Dr. Barbara Krantz, Florida, an expert in drug and alcohol treatment and recovery. "As a generation that grew up in a time when recreational drug use was commonly accepted, boomers are reverting to substance abuse as a way to cope with stress and change."

Boomers are currently entering experiencing much change in their lives.

Some are retiring, some are supporting kids and elderly parents. Others are burying their parents and witnessing their families grow smaller. Some are even losing their spouses.

Several weeks ago, my sister's husband passed away at home unexpectedly. They'd been together nearly 30 years.

Losing a soulmate is difficult no matter the circumstances. Such events usher in a striking change in living patterns.

When a household of two becomes a household of one, there is a profound change. The rooms fall silent.

You sit and have your morning coffee while staring at a wall. You come home from work and there is nobody to greet you.

You find yourself turning on the TV simply to hear voices. In many ways, your home is no longer a home. It's only a house.

Living alone takes some adjustments and the death of a partner forces us to face our own mortality.

I'm happy that my sister is doing well. I've tried to help as much as possible. But nobody can really carry someone else's grief. If there is a lesson that comes from all of this, it's that life is fragile and nothing is certain.

Enjoy every day that comes to you. Each morning when you open your eyes is a gift. Cherish it and be grateful for your health. Go out and do whatever makes you happy. Be good to yourself. Live hour to hour and don't worry about the future. You really can't control it anyway. Learn to accept disappointments with grace - even though it's difficult to do. And try to keep smiling.

Next month we'll celebrate Halloween and be visited by ghosts, goblins and zombies. But many of us don't need reminders to acknowledge the Grim Reaper.

And that's why it's important to be happy about growing old. Many aren't given the chance.

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