Apodaca: Boomers won't go gracefully

This week I'm feeling the need to address a topic that weighs on me more with each passing day: I'm getting old.

I've realized this because I no longer spend my weekends traipsing my kids to birthday parties with bounce houses and reptile shows. Instead, I celebrate birthdays, anniversaries and other occasions with the 50-plus crowd at more elegant affairs, where we drink fine wine and wonder how the heck our kids grew up so fast.

A movie called "This is 40" came out not long ago, and I refused to see it.

Filmmaker Judd Apatow is a funny guy, but I am not interested in seeing a couple of beautiful Hollywood actors whine about being 40 because a) 40 looks pretty good from where I'm sitting; b) if 40 is the age to have a mid-life crisis, I have no idea what to call what's happening to me now, and c) I can't remember because the memory's a bit jiggly these days, but I know it really bothers me.

Getting old is especially rough in Newport Beach, where I live. It's not a crime to be old here, but it's considered offensive to be unattractive. So we sculpt, augment, spray tan, yoga and Pilates our bodies into, well, not youth but a youth-like condition. This pursuit of youthfulness is so exhausting that I suspect it might actually induce premature aging.

I'm sure it's no coincidence that Botox-maker Allergan is headquartered in Irvine. The company must save millions in shipping costs by being so close to one of its biggest markets. Perhaps it should consider slipping the wrinkle-reducing serum directly into our water supply, like fluoride.

Despite all this angst over my advancing years, I can take some solace in the fact that I have plenty of company. Indeed, if forecasts prove correct, Orange County will continue to skew older in the years to come.

The California Department of Finance, which keeps track of such things, projects that the county's overall population will remain essentially flat in the half-century from 2010 to 2060, with a little more than 300,000, or 0.1%, more residents. But that's only because every age group younger than 65, from preschool to practically ready to retire, will shrink slightly.

The over-65 crowd, meanwhile, is expected to surge by 142% in the same time frame. The older the age group, the bigger the increase.

The same phenomenon will play out throughout the world, we are told, as birth rates decline and people live longer. What to do about this population shift and with aging baby boomers like me has become one of the most heated topics of our time, as worries grow over ballooning healthcare needs and other societal costs. Headlines warn of a fiscal "time bomb."

That's the bad news. The good news is that older people are better than you might think at staying relevant.

A rash of research on aging in the past few years has found a number of surprising benefits of growing old. A recent Smithsonian magazine article, for instance, referred to study after study finding that the 60-plus crowd is generally happier, more emotionally stable, more empathetic and more open to compromise than younger people.

One study in particular that received quite a bit of attention involved the University of Illinois' findings that older air traffic controllers excelled at their cognitively challenging jobs. The mature workers were especially good at navigating, juggling multiple aircraft simultaneously and avoiding collisions.

Anecdotal evidence also tells us that old people are getting more respect. Hollywood, for example, has awakened to the notion that many of us love older entertainers, such as Maggie Smith and Betty White, not because they are old but because they are old and cool. For a long time the words "old" and "cool" wouldn't have even made it into the same sentence; now old is the new black.

So are the T-shirts right — do old guys really rule? Are we on the cusp of a cultural awakening to the wonders of old age? Will my sons stop rolling their eyes every time I ask for help with the computer or talk about a great Springsteen concert I once attended?

That might be asking a bit much. And we still have that whole financial armageddon thing to work out.

But the baby boomers "have never been gentle," said Bill Schooling, chief demographer at the state finance department.

They hit the world like a demographic tsunami, prompting schools to be built, suburban tracts to be laid and industries to arise to employ and service them. Now our technology-enabled culture will allow them to remain engaged well past the traditional retirement age.

The baby boom generation "pushed the boundaries," Schooling said, and are now poised to do so again as they move into retirement. "I don't think they'll want to stay quiet. Baby boomers will want to stay active and involved."

Indeed, maybe we'll decide that the notion of growing old gracefully is overrated. As Schooling said, we baby boomers have never been gentle; most of us will probably prefer to go kicking and screaming into that good night.

PATRICE APODACA is a Newport-Mesa public school parent and former Los Angeles Times staff writer. She is also a regular contributor to Orange Coast magazine. She lives in Newport Beach.

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