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Instead of dreading your 80th birthday, here’s what to do instead

Q. I am about to turn 80 years old and cannot stop focusing on my birthday. In fact, I am dreading it. Any tips on managing 80 for a woman moving into this new decade? I am grateful yet apprehensive. Many thanks. T.F.

Gratitude is appropriate. If you were born in 1900, you may have lived only 47 years, which was life expectancy at that time. Fortunately, for most, there is predictable life ahead. Today, the average life expectancy for an 80-year-old woman in the U.S. is 90.1 years.

Not-so-good news: Unfortunately, age is a risk factor for illness and particularly for 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 Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias that increase with age. The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association reports three percent of people aged 65-74, 17 percent of those aged 75-84 and 32 percent of those 85 or older have Alzheimer’s dementia. Loss of mobility is a concern. The CDC reports mobility problems are prevalent among 35 percent of those age 70 and the majority of those over age 85.

Add to that our ageist environment that suggests older women should never look their age and do everything possible to look younger. This message is conveyed by magazines, newspapers, the entertainment industry and social media. How often have we heard, She looks great for her age? Industries remind us to dodge aging with Botox, Restylane, lotions, potions and more.

Some good news: These risk factors can serve us well by motivating us to embrace a healthy lifestyle that can slow the aging process and mitigate risks that accompany aging. For example, strength training can increase muscle mass which means you can get stronger helping to prevent mobility problems. Learning anything new can create new neural pathways in our brain-enhancing cognitive functioning. Having friends and acquaintances can also mitigate risks of cognitive decline. Living with a sense of purpose can lead to greater longevity.

More good news: Most people are happier in their 80s than in their younger years according to the research of psychologist Katherine Etsy. Based on the results of interviewing 128 octogenarians over three years, she told CNBC, “The stereotypes that people have in their minds about old age are just completely wrong,” she says. “The array of what people are doing in their 80s is stunning. Many people are pain-free and living full lives and traveling.” She found three reasons why this is so: People in their 80s have a sense of purpose; they experience less stress, worry and anger than in their younger years and they live in the moment.

The recent Academy Awards winners have given us some positive messages about older women. In the movie “80 for Brady” starring Rita Moreno, Sally Field, Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin, we see women in starring roles from ages 77 to 91 years. Best actress award winner Michelle Yeoh, aged 60, said, “Ladies, don’t let anyone tell you (that you) are ever past your prime.” “Never give up.” These women are not 80 years old; however, they are adding to a slowly changing mindset about older women.

On the lighter side, here are some benefits of reaching 80 years that may allay some of your concerns and make you smile as quoted in “The Bulletin.”

  • You will never have to experience adolescence again.

  • 80 years have made you wiser.

  • Napping is allowed.

  • You don’t have to do something unless you want to.

  • Means lots of birthday cards.

  • You not only know history; you have lived it.

  • It’s an awesome number just as you are an awesome person.

  • You’ve learned a deeper appreciation of most everything dear in your life.

We need to be aware of the risks that accompany aging and commit to a lifestyle that mitigates those risks. We also need to ignore messages from society that tell us women at the age of age 80 are less than – in terms of beauty, capability, creativity, caring, contribution and experiencing joy and wonder. We need to take this awareness and translate it into healthy behaviors and positive self-concepts to the extent possible. That can help begin to change our feelings about our own older birthdays.

So happy birthday, T.N. and thank you for your good question. Enjoy that special day with best wishes for many wonderful years ahead. On that day and every day, be kind to yourself and others.

Helen Dennis is a nationally recognized leader on issues of aging and the new retirement with academic, corporate and nonprofit experience. Contact Helen with your questions and comments at Visit Helen at and follow her on


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