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We Celebrate Baby Boomers -- Why Not 90-Year-Olds?

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All the news these days is about Baby Boomers and about how they're changing the face of aging with an in-your-face attitude. Baby Boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, make up a huge demographic, a total of over 75 million in the United States. And since I'm almost a Boomer myself, I love to hear about all the changes we're making.

But it seems to me that all this Boomer hype is seriously detracting from another group of women and men, those over 90 years old, a population that is expected to more than quadruple over the next four decades. Living to be over 90 is an accomplishment not recognized much outside of family and friends of the older person celebrating her longevity. Living to be over 100 does get some recognition, a letter from the president for an example, but there's rarely such acknowledgement awarded for our 90 birthday.

I think that any kind of longevity, say over 80 or maybe even 70, needs to be recognized and celebrated. Celebrations -- unlike fine wine -- do not improve with age.

My own mother, who lived to be over 100, had a great time at her 100th birthday party, even if she wasn't sure who all those people were. Lucky for us that we also had a 90th party for my Mom when she did remember all of us.

There are approximately two million people over 90 in the United States. Two million! So wouldn't a number like that influence the rest of us to start appreciating those 90+ people we know? If it's not a relative, couldn't we find an older neighbour maybe at the library? Wouldn't we make sure that we give them all the respect that they've earned? In all other countries, the older the person, the more he or she is revered.

In North America, there's what I call an ice floe frame of mind. Many years ago, Inuits were rumoured to have put their aging relatives on ice floes and wave goodbye to them as they floated off, never to return. Of course there is no literal ice floe now, although there is a predominant parallel in putting Mom or Dad in a retirement home or a nursing home.

The knowledge that our older population possesses is nearly untapped. Before the time of retirement homes and nursing homes, old parents moved in often with one of their children, where they could easily share some of their knowledge with their grandchildren and their own children too.

The chances of that happening with our institutionalized oldsters is remote. We no longer care to revel in our parents' stories, their recollections, their treasures, their wisdom. We don't miss their smile or their laughter. We don't treasure all they still have, in whatever way, to give to us. We don't acknowledge their love for us and for our children.

I'd like to see all of us taking the time to sit down with a person over 90 to learn even the tiniest bit that they'd love to give to us. I'd like to see us welcoming older relatives into our homes as part of our family. I'd like to see all of us knowing that having people over 90 in our lives is a gift to be cherished.

 
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