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Successful Aging: My friend is turning 80 but doesn’t want a party

Q. My “lady friend” is turning 80 and doesn’t want a party. Although she has many friends, she is ambivalent about inviting them to this particular birthday occasion. Is there any way to encourage her to change her feelings about this? Many thanks. H.S.

Dear H.S.

You have wonderful intentions. At the outset, we know we cannot make people do what they don’t want to do. However, there might be some wiggle room here.

From a personal perspective, I believe in celebrating the good things in life. And turning 80 is one of them.

H.S., you can tell your lady friend she will have lots of company with whom to compare notes. Let’s take a look at some numbers. The 80-to-84 year segment of the population will continue to grow. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2020 there will be 6.7 million in that age group, up from 5.8 million in 2012. In 2030, when the youngest baby boomer turns 65, there will be 10.5 million.

Let’s try to understand the trepidation. If you read the obituaries and start to look at when people exit the planet, you’ll see many leave before 80. One could think, “Am I next?” or “How lucky I am to be here.” If you have recently attended a funeral of a dear friend who is 80, 82 or 75, then you may hear a little voice that asks, “How much time do I have?” These events can serve as reminders of our own mortality

Age is a risk factor for illness and particularly chronic conditions. We know that 80 percent of adults 65 and older have at least one chronic condition; 68 percent have two or more.

Then there is the fear of Alzheimer’s disease. Recent statistics indicate that 11 percent of older adults on Medicare have been treated for Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia. Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth leading cause of death; every 65 seconds, someone is diagnosed with it.

Yet studies indicate in general, older adults are not afraid of dying; it is the dying process they fear. If we want to look at the downside of aging, yes, we are looking at age as a risk factor.

But there is another side. And that’s being happy in later life. Many are surprised to learn that happiness and life satisfaction go up just before age 60 and continues into the 80s. On average, people who are older are much happier than those in mid-life.

According to an interview with geriatrician Louise Aronson, author of “Elderhood: Redefining Aging, Transforming Medicine, Reimagining Life” (2019, Bloomsbury), people become happier because they are more comfortable with themselves, have confidence in their priorities as they spend time in ways they value and with people who share those values. Their life becomes positive and self-reinforcing.

Consider reminding your friend about some good aspects to turning 80. You can find some examples from the online Bulletin article “80 great things about being 80.” These include things such as “No one mistakes you for being the new kid on the block,” “You not only know history, you lived it.” and “Peer pressure is a thing of the past.”

Thank you H.S. for your good question. Consider throwing your friend a party and invite her favorite people. My guess is that she will be thrilled. And remind her that she is beautiful. Eleanor Roosevelt is quoted as saying, “Beautiful young people are accidents of nature; beautiful old people are works of art.” I agree.

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