Opinion | Paul Olson: I hope you youngsters can keep up

There is much talk of a rematch between Biden and Trump in 2024 (eye roll). Too many of the news stories of a repeat campaign focus on the age of the candidates instead of their character and positions on important issues. President Biden is 80 years old. Trump is 76. Nancy Pelosi is 82 and Mitch McConnell is 80. My advance into mature years may be resulting in bias, but I have learned to appreciate the benefits of favoring older, wiser, experienced people for leadership positions.

It should be unremarkable that we have political and business leaders in their 80s. There are 90-year-olds running marathons. An 80-year-old has summited Mount Everest. The U.S. Census Bureau gives the 2020 65-and-older population in Summit County at almost 4,500. That is 14.4% of the county’s population, but I would guess that our older citizens make up an even larger proportion of volunteers and directors of nonprofit organizations. The civic participation of seniors plays an essential role in communities. In the 2018 U.S. elections, 58% of the nation’s poll workers were age 61 or older. In the 2020 national elections, 74% of those 65 and older voted but only 51% of those ages 18 to 24 cast a vote.

Our society worships unlined faces and strong youthful bodies but often discounts the value of the wisdom that comes from maturity. There is a cost to society and our economy from this ageism. There is a tendency due to custom and social pressure for workers to retire at too early an age, thus, depriving businesses of their most experienced and productive workers. Not only do retirements at age 65 and younger harm the economy, but many studies indicate that it also harms the health of the retirees. For example, 2016 research by Oregon State University found that healthy adults who retired one year past age 65 had an 11% lower risk of death from all causes, even when taking into account demographic, lifestyle and health issues.

In 2017, U.S. News chose Colorado as the best state for aging due to factors such as the quality of health care, recreational opportunities and the strong economy. It is not surprising that Summit County is a popular new home for retirees. However, I hope these newly retired residents will consider continuing to work, at least part time. Local businesses are in need of workers, especially those over 65 who have a lifetime of work experience and can be a valued part of a business. These retirees who join our workforce can enjoy the benefits of more social connections which can lead to better mental and physical health. Another way for these retirees to make new friends and help the community would be to volunteer at one of our nonprofit organizations. Many are short on help. For example, Mountain Mentors currently has 44 kids waiting for a mentor.

There are many misperceptions about aging that create a harmful generation gap in society. A Pew Research survey found that 57% of 18- to 64-year-olds expect senior citizens to suffer from some memory loss, but only 25% of those 65 and older actually experienced memory loss. Rates of dementia have declined in the past 30 years due to improved treatment of high blood pressure, cholesterol and inflammation. About 90% of those age 70 and older are free of dementia. Of college graduates who are 70 and older, 95% do not have symptoms of dementia (keep reading books).

I am thankful to live in Summit County where it is normal for those on Social Security to be climbing mountains and skiing black-diamond runs. Though our thin air may result in a little more stress on our bodies, I feel the psychological advantages of being surrounded by active, health-minded people will be of far greater importance for longevity and life satisfaction. I cringe to think of how I would be doing if I had stayed in the Midwest among my inactive friends who think V8 is a vegetable serving.

The extra free time that can come with retirement can be a blessing or a curse depending on the habits we maintain. Monty Python alumnus John Cleese says that one of the awful things about getting old is that food tastes better. I have noticed this and often need extra willpower to get out for a walk instead of being tempted to have a snack in front of my computer.

During this festive time of year, I like to reread “A Christmas Carol.” None of us say humbug to Christmas, but the inspirational lesson of this story is how we can rethink our attitude about ourself and our ability to change for the better. We are never too old for self improvement and choosing a new path. Just this week, 90-year-old Joyce DeFauw received a bachelor’s degree from Northern Illinois University, reminding us, “You can never quit learning.”

Ingrid Bergman observed that “Getting old is like climbing a mountain: you get a little out of breath, but the view is much better.” The best way to enjoy both your older years and life in Summit County is to keep busy and see mountains as opportunities instead of obstacles.

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