Seventy is the new Eighty.

March 30, 2024

Seventy is the new Eighty.

May 29, 2023

Chip’s Thought: Thanks to Barbara Kreisman, a very active and academic MEA alum, for this series for the next four guest posts - two this weekend and two next weekend - on a topic that we often neglect until it’s too late.

What????  This is contrary to all we’ve been hearing about longevity. Life is getting shorter, not longer, how could this be? 

Americans are indeed living longer, but spending less time in good health. The estimated average proportion of life spent in good health declined to 83.6% in 2021, down from 85.8% in 1990 according to an analysis by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. 

In the past, surviving into old age was uncommon. Now, midlife is that space which bridges early adulthood and later adulthood. Midlife today may last 40 years or more—from about 35 to a 75 as Chip describes it. In fact, there is a high (40-50 per cent) probability that a person aged 65 will live to age 90. The objective is to have our health span match that of our lifespan.  

The decrease is partly because medical advances are catching and treating diseases that once would have killed us.  There are broad ramifications on society and on those of us who are just now waking to the joys of middle age. Many of us are experiencing declining health of our parents, or we may be facing diagnoses of cancer, dementia or other illnesses ourselves.  

Just before Thanksgiving, my husband received a call informing us that their 93-year-old father had stumbled and hit his head. The next day he awoke and thought he was dying. Until that morning, my father-in-law was going to the office daily. We all believed he and my mother-in-law, also 93, would live forever.

Needless to say, we quickly packed our car then headed as fast as we could, driving 14 hours from Chicago to Denver. Though we are residents of Denver, my husband and I are participating in the 10-month Leadership and Society Initiative at the University of Chicago. 

As a student in the LSI program, I am taking a course on Death and Dying and suddenly the research became all too real. My professor, a medical social worker, had just told us that recognition of human mortality is one of the least spoken about subjects amongst people of all ages “yet death is both inevitable and irreversible and eventually happens to all of us. A person doesn’t have to grow old, but we all age,” she said. That got my attention.

Upon arrival in Denver, we immediately visited my father-in-law in the hospital.  It had just been two weeks since we saw him over the holidays and when we left town, he was in relatively good health. We were shocked to see him now—incoherent, pale, on oxygen, with an IV, and catheter. He was being given a multitude of drugs including morphine in small doses.

The hospital scene was noisy and traumatic. We were met by numerous family members, all standing around asking medical personnel for a prognosis and what to do next. We learned that my father-in-law’s death was not imminent. Yes, he was incapacitated, but he was not going to die immediately because his internal organs were functioning fairly well; it was his mind that had been affected most by his fall. He was to be released by the hospital in the next couple of days, but where was he to go? Certainly not home again, but where? 

This presented a new and challenging dilemma for the family; one that so many of us experience as our parents age or as we progress through the years ourselves. 

The dramatic postponement of death (extended lifespan) has come upon us with such rapidity that few people are recognizing its impact. In essence, modern scientific capability has altered the course of human living. Death is normal, it is the natural order of things—in essence it is our final transition. The problem is, fewer people today recognize their own mortality and thus do little to plan for it. 

Thus, I volunteered to write a series of guest blogs to address the experience of modern death and dying, with the intent to share wisdom around the subject of human fragility. This is the first of the four-part series.  

-Barbara

Barbara Kreisman earned a PhD in Leadership and Organizational Development from the University of Texas and is an Emerita Professor at the University of Denver where she served as Associate Dean of the College of Business for 17 years.  Prior to entering the academic environment, Barb was a senior leader at Dell Technologies.  She is currently affiliated with the University of Denver’s Knoebel Institute for Healthy Aging and will return there upon completion of the LSI program. She is a four-time MEA alum.

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