Aging in the modern day

Untitled-2Nick C. Jackson, Ph. D., professor and chair of the department of psychology at Eastern Washington University, gave a lecture last Tuesday that focused on the question of what successful aging is, along with present and past perspectives on its definition.
Between 1900 and 1947, life expectancy in the U.S. nearly doubled. Many diseases were dealt with and the concept of a clean, sanitary lifestyle was brought to light. Vincent Cirillo released a paper in 2008 titled “Two Faces of Death: Fatalities from Disease and Combat in America’s Principle Wars, 1775 to Present” and it revealed some statistics about the relationship between combat and death in United States history.  According to Cirillo, World War II was the first war in American history during which more soldiers died due to combat rather than disease.
Jackson observed that because of massive improvements in medicine and major success in the United States after the war, between 1946 and 1964 “there was this massive influx of people having babies and they were going to live longer,” said Jackson. “What happens in addition to that life expectancy was that we expected, over the coming years, for this group to be maturing through system?”
According to Jackson, this generation, coined “baby boomers,” were special in a statistical sense. In a graph called a population pyramid that measures the birth and mortality rates in a population, usually there is a steady growth in both categories, “which means whenever we have a bunch of babies, we also have a bunch of older people that are dying,” explained Jackson. “The baby boomer generation did something totally different, because suddenly, there was this group of people that was much bigger than any other cohort that had preceded it and much bigger than cohorts that came after it.”
Because the baby boomers didn’t have a large influx of birth rates, the population is left over with an alarmingly large amount of older adults in the population working their way up the age demographic.
Jackson is focusing his research in gerontology, (the study of aging) onto how people age well and what that means in society today. “This society is afraid of death,” commented Agnes Prestoza, a student at Bellevue College. “I think it’s our age bracket that’s going to pioneer how society […] shifts its viewpoint about aging.”
Since the foundation of gerontology in 1947, many definitions of “aging successfully” have been formulated, ranging from defining happiness with how active an older adult still is or how disengaged from society they might be. Studying these effects is a long and expensive process, but Jackson hopes to use resources like the Happiness Initiative that collect data on gross national happiness based on certain factors. “I just think that there’s a lot of opportunity in this field of gerontology,” said Silvia Wilson, a student at Eastern Washington University. “I really do believe [people] have an obsession with youth, and the reality is a lot of beautiful and exciting people are out there that are more mature […] Some of the attitudes of youth scare me.”