© 2024 Kansas City Public Radio
NPR in Kansas City
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

At Aging Conference, Old Is The New Black


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.


ELVIS PRESLEY: (Singing) Warden threw a party in the county jail. The prison band was there, they began to wail.


ARETHA FRANKLIN: (Singing) R-E-S-P-E-C-T, find out what it means to me. R-E-S-P-E-C-T. Take care, TCB. Sock it to me, sock it to me, sock it to me.


DAVID BOWIE: (Singing) We can be heroes.

SIMON: Those songs are from different decades, but the people who danced to them - back in the day - now all have something in common. They're all at least 65 years old, or will be soon. NPR's Ina Jaffe covers aging. She joins us now for the first conversation of a series that we're going to call 1 in 5.

Ina, why 1 in 5?

INA JAFFE, BYLINE: Because in just 15 years, one-fifth of the U.S. population will be 65 years old or more.

SIMON: Now, this is because - the baby boomer generation?

JAFFE: That's such a baby boomer thing to say, Scott.

SIMON: (Laughter).

JAFFE: You know, it's always all about us, right? But actually, you know, this time it is partly about us. There are 10,000 boomers turning 65 every day. But it's also about people living longer than they used to. If you've made it to 65 years old, you are likely to live another 20 years. Just to compare, people born about a century ago, their life expectancy was in their early 50s. So, saving for retirement or getting Alzheimer's disease - they didn't live long enough to have to worry about things like that.

SIMON: Now, Ina, you're speaking with us from WBEZ in Chicago. You're in a good spot to talk about aging. I just don't mean our studios there.

JAFFE: No, the studios don't look like they've aged much at all. But this week in Chicago, I've been at the Aging in America Conference. And there are thousands of people there and they go to sessions every day on all kinds of topics.

SIMON: What in particular do they seem to be talking about?

JAFFE: The sessions are on care-giving, on finance and retirement, on gay and transgender issues, on dementia, on politics and public policy. And the reason it's like this is that there's hardly a single aspect of American life that won't be affected by this demographic shift.

SIMON: Ina, what did you hear over the past couple of days that's really stuck with you that we should hear now?

JAFFE: You know, there was one session that really got to me and it was called "Shame In Aging." And the point the presenters were making was that older adults - and they were talking about people in their 80s and 90s - can be ashamed of feeling useless. They have shame over needing help from others and shame over their appearance. And the bad thing about this besides the bad feelings is that it can lead to more isolation. And they told this very touching story of this older woman in her late 80s who had stopped seeing people. She'd stopped receiving visitors. And they found the reason was that she had a few hairs growing out of her chin but she couldn't see well enough to anymore to pluck them. And she just didn't want anyone to see her like that.

SIMON: What about reaction from a lot of seniors themselves?

JAFFE: Well, there is pushback on this, as you would guess. There are some people who want to take power over the image of aging. And I'll just leave you with one little example, I saw it on a T-shirt, and it said Old Is The New Black.

SIMON: (Laughter). All right. Ina Jaffe covers aging for NPR. She spoke with us from Chicago, where she's been attending the 2015 Aging in America Conference.

Ina, thanks so much.

JAFFE: Good to be with you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

KCUR serves the Kansas City region with breaking news and award-winning podcasts.
Your donation helps keep nonprofit journalism free and available for everyone.