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Our Later Years


As more of us live longer, we change the content and definition of these years and gain a new sense of the range of normal aging. Our older years can be a good phase of life. 
I’m 90 years old and in good health. My main problem is balance. I have always believed in lifelong learning, and I continue to take courses. A friend of mine who told me “Every decade I plan to have a project” inspires me.

A seventy-two-year-old woman says:

I am madly in love with a man whom I met since I became a widow. I can say that my feelings are just as intense, emotionally and physically, as ever they were at any of the other ages…I love everything we do together sexually, and most of the time we both feel easy about where it leads, that it’s different each time and doesn’t always end the way experts describe.

The quality of our lives often depends more on our health than on our age.

When I was 65 I felt young. I started a new job and new activities. I am now 86, and I felt “young” up until a year ago. My memory is not so good now, and that really makes a difference.

Up through my 70s I did everything I always did. Now…I get tired more easily. Neither my husband nor I drive at night any more. We do keep up our interests and try to keep fit; [we] go to exercise two mornings, and once a week we swim.

There is much we can do to take care of ourselves and manage certain health conditions. Yet even when we eat well, exercise, and have strong social contacts, aging brings with it loss, decline, and illness. It’s essential to incorporate this reality into our view of aging well, and to find ways to cope with new circumstances.

Feminization of Aging

The population of people over sixty-five is overwhelmingly female. Women live, on the average, nearly seven years longer than men. And increasing numbers of women are living eighty or more years. Along with the benefits of longevity come certain problems: chronic illness, increased dependence on medical care, caregiving or needing care, insufficient economic resources, and possibly surviving one’s partner, relatives, and closest friends. Because women live longer, these are predominantly women’s problems. Researchers and policy makers have mainly overlooked them.

One positive side of our growing numbers is our potentially greater clout as a political constituency. In 2000 women over forty-five constituted 18.6 percent of the adult U.S. population.1 The government and the press are paying more attention to us. It’s important to build upon this attention by demanding, creating, and fighting for programs that meet the needs of midlife and older women and the needs of an aging population. Especially important are protecting and maintaining Medicare and Social Security programs and developing a long-term care policy to provide a continuum of services for our older years that acknowledge the diversity of our living situations and economic resources.

Excerpted from the 2005 edition of Our Bodies, Ourselves, © 2005, Boston Women's Health Book Collective.

1. U.S. Bureau of Census 2000, compiled by the Administration on Aging.


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