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Top 5 Deathbed Regrets.

Nurse reveals the top 5 regrets people make on their deathbed

Editors Intro: Are you a baby boomer with a bucket list? It’s interesting to contemplate whether your bucket list would match your list of regrets when you were looking back on your life when you knew your time was nearly over. From the experience of a palliative care nurse witnessing the wisdom that often comes with last words, bungee jumping, sky diving, visiting Machu Pichu or having a fling in Paris may not be high on the list of regrets expressed in the last days of life. Or maybe achieving the bucket list requires an important reconsideration of the real values for a life well lived. Their is much food for thought in the following article. Graham Forbes

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For many years I worked in palliative care. My patients were those who had gone home to die. Some incredibly special times were shared. I was with them for the last three to twelve weeks of their lives.People grow a lot when they are faced with their own mortality. I learnt never to underestimate someone’s capacity for growth. Some changes were phenomenal. Each experienced a variety of emotions, as expected, denial, fear, anger, remorse, more denial and eventually acceptance. Every single patient found their peace before they departed though, every one of them. When questioned about any regrets they had or anything they would do differently, common themes surfaced again and again. Here are the most common five:
1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.This was the most common regret of all. When people realise that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not honoured even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made.It is very important to try and honour at least some of your dreams along the way. From the moment that you lose your health, it is too late. Health brings a freedom very few realise, until they no longer have it.

2. I wish I didn’t work so hard.

This came from every male patient that I nursed. They missed their children’s youth and their partner’s companionship. Women also spoke of this regret. But as most were from an older generation, many of the female patients had not been breadwinners. All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence.

By simplifying your lifestyle and making conscious choices along the way, it is possible to not need the income that you think you do. And by creating more space in your life, you become happier and more open to new opportunities, ones more suited to your new lifestyle.

3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.

Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result.

We cannot control the reactions of others. However, although people may initially react when you change the way you are by speaking honestly, in the end it raises the relationship to a whole new and healthier level. Either that or it releases the unhealthy relationship from your life. Either way, you win.

4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

Often they would not truly realise the full benefits of old friends until their dying weeks and it was not always possible to track them down. Many had become so caught up in their own lives that they had let golden friendships slip by over the years. There were many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort that they deserved. Everyone misses their friends when they are dying.

It is common for anyone in a busy lifestyle to let friendships slip. But when you are faced with your approaching death, the physical details of life fall away. People do want to get their financial affairs in order if possible. But it is not money or status that holds the true importance for them. They want to get things in order more for the benefit of those they love. Usually though, they are too ill and weary to ever manage this task. It is all comes down to love and relationships in the end. That is all that remains in the final weeks, love and relationships.

5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realise until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called ‘comfort’ of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content. When deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again.

When you are on your deathbed, what others think of you is a long way from your mind. How wonderful to be able to let go and smile again, long before you are dying.

Life is a choice. It is YOUR life. Choose consciously, choose wisely, choose honestly. Choose happiness.

Editors Note: What will you do, as a baby boomer with perhaps 20 – 30 more years of life ahead of you, wait till the end to review, or re-evaluate now? It is possible your bucket list might change, or you might be able to achieve some lifelong dreams because you have realised the false beliefs and attitudes that have affected your choices to date. My choice is to review today and every day, so that I have a good chance of not arriving at my last days with regrets. What will you do? Please feel free to share your thoughts as they may help others in their own thinking of what the future holds. We are all in a transition period without a lot of signposts.

Graham Forbes

 

Is This The Boomer’s Next Revolution?

We boomers have influenced and controlled the world around us from the day we were conceived. Now as we age, our grip on our environment and experiences may be slipping as we move from the positions of power and influence to the margins of society as the elderly, the retired, pensioners and even the disengaged.

Dan Kadlec believes that the one inevitable facing all of us, death, will be the issue that mobilises us as an influence for change once last time. We will seek to change and even control how and when we die. Editor

A Good Death: How Boomers Will Change the World a Final Time
By Aug. 14, 2013
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Surely the world has heard enough of the Baby Boomers, who have dominated the political, cultural and economic landscape for six decades. But a generation that has refused to go quietly into any life stage will, it seems, be heard from one final time on the biggest issue of them all: how to die.

For eons, folks grew old, endured the symptoms, and died when it was their time—according to God’s will, some would say, even if it involved fighting through lingering illness, pain and suffering, or years of mental or physical incapacitation. A “good” death was about having lived long enough to see grandchildren, put one’s affairs in order, and pass away surrounded by a loving family.

Boomers don’t see it that way. To them, a good death is more about a good life. When they can’t have that any longer, it’s time to pull the plug. This will be the first generation to broadly eschew painful life-extending procedures and make the most of palliative care to live better in fewer days, and then die with dignity.

“The goal post is always moving as people get closer to the end zone,” says Ruth Goldstein, a retired nurse in Baltimore who has worked with the elderly. “But the main point is that each person is in charge of when it is time to call it a game.”

Growing old and dying has never been especially topical with boomers, who brought sexuality, birth control, gender issues, and civil rights out of the shadows. In recent years, boomers have reinvented retirement, recharacterizing this period of life from one of leisure and withdrawal to one of encore careers, giving back, and prolonged engagement.

Many remain at work, youthful and energetic. But as friends have begun to grow ill and pass away and boomers bury their parents, often after long and expensive bouts of physical or mental suffering, the generation that didn’t trust anyone over 30 has turned its thoughts to dying—and how to do it, like everything else, on their own terms.

“Boomers have never been a stoic bunch,” says author and gerontologist Ken Dychtwald, who has studied the generation for four decades. “They’re not going to allow their last chapter in life to be an extended period of loss, fear, pain, and suffering.” He believes more will choose to forgo treatments that degrade but extend life, and when confronted with years of illness opt for the quick solution—suicide either with or without the help of a doctor.

As one boomer responding to a story in the Baltimore Sun wrote: “When I reach that stage I want bacon and sausage for breakfast, pizza for lunch and a Whopper for dinner. That menu would not only provide me with great pleasure, but might also speed up the inevitable.”

Medical science has done a remarkable job in keeping people alive longer. Life expectancy has ballooned from 47 to 78 years over the past century. But science has also gotten better at keeping people dying longer. Boomer parents have been the principle battleground for things like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, chronic arthritis, incontinence and diabetes, all of which can make life a struggle for year upon year. It’s not pretty, and boomers are starting to ask how they might avoid this nightmare.

“They’re saying they’d like to have some degree of humanity and dignity and control over the end of their life,” says Dychtwald. “They don’t want to be a burden to their children and grandchildren; they don’t want to live an extra decade in some hospital or nursing home with tubes up their nose.”

Suffering people have long sought an early end, of course, and many have done so quietly—or not so quietly in the case of patients of euthanasia advocate Dr. Jack Kevorkian. But we are now seeing the beginnings of a broad movement that will change the game for good. “People are starting to think about aid-in-dying as the next civil rights movement,” says Goldstein. “Death with dignity is the final frontier of human rights and freedom of expression.”

So what was once a taboo subject—how to die—is now in open discourse. The death café movement encourages people to meet and discuss the concept of a good death. This dialogue is being fed in part by less rigid adherence to organized religion, which has strong views surrounding death and dying, and advances in medicine and technology that make it easier to feel you can control pain and symptoms and the way you die.

The emerging template for a good death isn’t all about choosing your moment, though that is the biggest part of what is changing. And much of what makes a good death today has long been the case. Here are the key aspects of a good death:

  • Control of the process You want to make decisions around all aspects of your illness and be certain that your wishes will be followed even if you are unable to see to it yourself. “People want more control in the months and days leading up to dying,” says Megory Anderson, founder and director of Sacred Dying Foundation. “They have clear ideas of where they want to die, who is with them, and what medical intervention is used.”
  • Open Communication You can’t be in control if you aren’t getting an honest and coordinated discussion among doctors, patient, and family. This should include frank talk about chances of recovery and burdens of treatment on the patient and family.
  • Broad support You want to know the medical staff will stay to the end; that your family is on board, finances are not the deciding factor, and that professionals will help you prepare emotionally. In The Good Death: The New American Search to Reshape the End of Life, author Marilyn Webb writes: “There is recognition of the need for family strength, an understanding that the good or bad legacy this death creates will endure in family lore.”
  • Spirituality Many look to their religious traditions during the dying process. But spirituality encompasses much more than faith and traditions. It’s about creating a peaceful and comforting environment that may incorporate prayer, meditation, music, and candles. This is highly personalized and may provide the kind of signature departure that many boomers demand.
  • Minimal suffering Today’s powerful medications make it possible to relieve physical pain while remaining lucid longer. But mental suffering can be acute too, and one way to relieve it is by placing limitations on treatments early in the process and clearly delineating what measures are to be taken to keep you alive. “More end-of-life-care clinicians are coming to the understanding that aggressive treatment doesn’t universally deliver better quality or quantity of life, and isn’t always in the best interest or reflect the wishes of patients,” says Colleen Wadden, director of external communication for Providence Health & Services.
  • Meaning Boomers have always sought a better way. They want to feel their dying experience is just right for them. This is what drives the hospice care movement, where terminally ill people get the care they need to live long enough and with minimal pain to go out on their own terms. “Death is seldom good, desired or welcome,” says Dr. John Shuster, chief medical officer at Alive Hospice in Nashville, Tenn. “The task is to help patients and families bear what may seem unbearable, to work toward relief of as much physical, emotional, and spiritual distress as possible, and to enable patients to live well during this precious and important time with as much meaning and dignity as possible.”
  • Closure Unsettled affairs make death more difficult. You want to use your final days to make sure loved ones are cared for as best you can, mend fences, and leave memories. “Baby boomers build and preserve meaning through narrative, and the telling and sharing of important stories,” says Shuster. “This is healing for all ages. Celebrating and focusing on important relationships adds meaning to life, especially in the setting of a life-limiting illness. An advanced illness can be the stimulus to heal important broken relationships.”

Editor’s comment. The writer has presented a compelling argument as to why the boomer generation might want change in the way they experience their dying days, and understanding the important issues that we need to pay attention to will go a long way to filling our desire for a good ending. However, an additional reality is that the people who may make many of the critical decisions affecting our choices and options will be the younger generations who have quite different perspectives and life experiences. If we are to bring about the changes we desire, we will need to stay actively engaged with the change process and the critical decision-making processes, such as politics.

Leave your comment, enter the debate, and in the words of Dylan Thomas “rage against the dying of the light”.

Graham Forbes

 

How Are Boomers Going To Age?

The baby boomers at 65

The following article appeared in The Age news publication in 2011 as the first of the baby boomers hit 65. This was a disturbing time for many as they reached the age where they always expected that they would cease working, and indulge in never-ending recreational pursuits. However, many are continuing to work for necessity or identity, and we are slowly realising that we are likely to live much longer than our parents and grandparents. What this longer life will look like is uncertain, but it is most likely that it will not be like the ageing experiences of the past. The boomer generation is going to change the landscape yet again.

Jo Chandler, The Age

They are the generation that changed the social landscape, reshaping – and at times revolutionising – how we live, work and play. Now the boomers have reached a new milestone.

”I hope I die before I get old.”
Pete Townshend, My Generation,
The Who. Age 20, 1965

THE first babies of the boomer wave – the generation who shouted loud the anthem composed for them by Townshend, cranking up the volume, thrashing their air guitars and alienating their bemused parents – turn 65 this year.

Some 200,000 of them, the 1946 crop, will hit the milestone in Australia in 2011, with another 5.4 million coming up behind to swell the senior demographic to unprecedented dimensions. Each week more than 1000 Victorians are turning 65. Whether you are inside or outside the boomer legion, brace yourselves – it may be a bumpy ride.

Most boomers will presumably be grateful not to have been granted their youthful wish for an early dispatch. If they could reprise the lyrics to reflect what surveys tell us about their mindset today, My Generation (@2011) would more likely chorus something like ”Hope I Die Before I Get Alzheimer’s”, or ”Before I Run Out of Money”, or ”Before They Put Me in a Home”. Or, characteristically, they might just stick out their chins and subvert the whole paradigm: ”Define ‘old’.”

Nonetheless, for a cohort distinguished by trenchant refusal to grow into their parents, to find themselves qualifying to collect the old age pension (the women got there last year) is a confronting moment.

What with the creaky hips, collapsed jawlines and shrinking newsprint, you’d excuse a bit of crankiness. As one author wrote in, abruptly deflecting an invitation from The Age to reflect on his imminent 65th, ”I can think of few things I would rather do less – for example, sliding down a giant razor blade.”

However reluctantly, the boomers are positioning to redefine old age, just as they have recast every other category of the demographic continuum on the push through. From the generation that invented teenage-hood, embraced the sexual revolution, fought the gender war, manufactured consumer culture, wrestled the work-life balance, fractured traditional family and rode the wave of prosperity until it crashed around their ears in the global financial crisis – now comes The New Old Age.

By the time they hit 65, most boomers have acclimatised to the shock of senior status, says social commentator Hugh Mackay. They have negotiated fraught middle age, coming to terms with the externals of gravity.

Nonetheless, many will struggle with questions of identity when they pull in the shingle of their occupation. Then there are issues of relevance, spirituality, legacy and death, together with the less existential questions of financial security and bodily decay. The last of these looms particularly large for those boomers caring for elderly parents.

At some deepest level, Mackay reckons many never imagined they would set foot on the grey landscape. Hence quite a few arrive without the stash of savings they might have wished they had, and perhaps with more baggage than they bargained. After all, ”We’re here for a good time/Not a long time”.

”That was their generational ethos,” Mackay says. ”That is why they were the inventors of instant gratification. They were absolutely impatient, voracious consumers of everything – education, travel, sex. They married young, had kids young, they went into it all with their ears pinned back.” He anticipates nothing less as they move through what was once retirement and into their senior years.

For example, in regard to work, ”what they are talking about is not retirement, but in classic boomer style, they are ‘refocusing’,” says Mackay. ”That might mean chopping back a bit at paid work, playing a bit more golf, doing a bit of volunteering, but not absolutely stopping work. That would be a sign that you are old.” Their vision is to enter a new ”airy, sunlit upland” drifting between work and play.

In this landscape they can embrace maturity, and will demand for themselves the venerable status of elder. Many of them are signalling that they will turn their energies to philanthropy and volunteerism – perhaps to make amends, perhaps to redefine themselves, perhaps even acting from altruism.

Most will cling fast to the demeanour and accoutrements of their younger selves for as long as they can. As Professor Simon Biggs – formerly head of gerontology at King’s College London, now continuing his exploration of mature identity at the University of Melbourne – has observed, many will continue to use consumerism to buy the props that declare who they are – the clothes or holidays or houses, books or music or indulgences.

But whereas in middle age this may have been invested in what Biggs called the ”masquerade of youth”, at 65, most of the 1946 babies interviewed by The Age seem more inclined to spend money and time on things that reflect their inner core, hopefully straddling youthful attitude and maturity.

To understand where the boomers will take old age requires an understanding of where they came from. Their life courses – while individually diverse – have been propelled by strong political, economic and social winds prevailing through their formative years. As children of the Cold War, they were shaped by contradictory influences, explains Mackay.

”One was the looming prospect of nuclear war, the thought that at any minute, either deliberately or accidentally, we would all be history. That co-existed with the surprise of postwar economic boom … full employment, massive explosions in manufacturing, housing, business in general.”

The baby boomers climbed aboard the economic escalator, enjoying whatever wealth and opportunity they found on the way up. As it turned out they weren’t claimed by nuclear fallout, but neither did they enjoy an entirely rosy ride – particularly those at the leading edge of the boomer wave.

”They hit this very turbulent period. The big credit squeeze of the ’70s, the massive recession of the ’80s, even more severe than the one in the ’90s. So their generation experienced the highest rate of unemployment since the Great Depression,” observes Mackay. ”They set new divorce records. ‘All you need is love’ didn’t quite turn out. They had a lot of pain.”

They were in the thick of the gender revolution – wonderful for many women, confronting for some, and deeply challenging for their menfolk. And in the midst of all the economic upheaval came the info-tech revolution, late enough to be a real challenge ”They have been here for a long time, and it hasn’t always been such a good time,” says Mackay. ”However, they have always seen themselves as iconoclasts and social pioneers. At every stage they have seen themselves as being younger than their parents at the same age. And brighter, fitter, better fed, better dressed, better educated, with better taste.”

They will determinedly do old age better too. But it is a fraught landscape. At 65, big questions loom. How will I spend the next 20 or 30 years? Will I work? Can I afford to play? Will I lose my marbles? Where will I live? How do I engage with the world? And the question ringing loudly in the internal world of a generation for whom self-absorption and self-actualisation was not self-indulgence – who will I be when I am old?

‘THERE is a certain point in one’s life where you start to count forward to where you are probably going to die, rather than counting back to where you started your life or your career,” says gerontologist Professor Hal Kendig, head of the ageing, work, and health research unit at the University of Sydney.

That moment is now upon many boomers. In this they are not so special – their forebears met it with no more relish. But boomers have an ace up their sleeve – time. ”Old age used to be this very short period between when you stop working and when you get frail and die, especially for men,” says Kendig. Today, Australian Bureau of Statistics figures conservatively anticipate a 65-year-old man surviving into his mid-80s, and women nudging 90.

Earlier generations arguably accepted too easily negative and lower expectations for older people, Kendig says. But whereas they slipped into their cardigans and comfy chairs for a relatively brief stay in God’s waiting room, the boomers are busting through into the so-called Third Age.

Like Mackay, Kendig also looks to the boomers’ past to get a fix on their future. He tracks the nexus of their key life stages against critical moments of history – such as growing up in rising affluence and the new suburbia, and entering adulthood in a period of tumultuous social change. The identity they forged in the 1960s will now inform who they are in their 60s, 70s and 80s. But for a couple of reasons, just how that will turn out is not entirely clear.

The first caveat, says Kendig, is that the boomers are not necessarily as wayward as we think. The second is that once again the boomers are moving into a new life stage at precisely the same moment history churns violently, their retirement plans ripped apart by the GFC.

”The sharpness of that economic shock had a very frightening effect on people on the verge or retiring, and was even worse on those who had just retired,” says Kendig.

Despite all the hyperbole about boomers as carefree change agents who partied like there was no tomorrow, Kendig points out that every baby boomer was raised by a parent who came to adulthood during the Great Depression. ”They grew up with core values from parents who had to fix their socks and worry about the next meal. So we baby boomers have our stoical parents somewhere deep within ourselves.”

The GFC brought those values to the surface.

When Kendig and his colleagues surveyed 1000 boomers on the impact of the GFC last year, they found almost 40 per cent of those working were financially hit hard. As a consequence, more than 41 per cent of women, and almost 32 per cent of men, decided to postpone their retirement plans.

Between those electing to stay in paid work because of financial necessity, and those who want to work to preserve their identity and engagement in the world, the boomers are set to maintain a visible profile in the workforce. The sixtysomethings and even seventysomethings will be hanging around the office a while yet.

This is a good thing, Kendig argues – both for older individuals, and for society. The boomers are greying just as a trough in births plays out in an increasingly depleted workforce. ”That is a major change, one that has precipitated lots of reactions which get focused on baby boomers. One of them is ‘we can’t afford these guys’.”

Much of the focus of public policy discussion on the cost to government of demographic change ”in a sense blames the older population … but it’s structural, not personal”. Kendig wants to see more policy encouraging older productivity, in part as an antidote to anticipated shortages of workers.

”Employers are recognising, at a time of low levels of unemployment, that baby boomers are worth keeping. That’s a huge change – a new era in history. Australia is recognising the big bugbear for the future is not youth unemployment, it is having enough workers for everyone, including the government – so our attitudes are starting to change.”

Continuing to work will help boomers who have failed to put aside enough money for retirement to maintain their lifestyles. ”It is true that many boomers have expectations far beyond the old age pension,” says Kendig. But he dismisses perceptions that they will syphon up public resources they are not entitled to at the expense of younger generations. ”Older people care about their kids and the future and all the rest. It’s not going to happen.”

Kendig emphasises that work is not just about money, but about continuing to contribute to families, to communities, and to maintain a sense of self. He uses the allegory of a farmer who, with advancing age, downsizes to a garden, and then tends a few plants on a shelf.

”One of the fundamental questions is how one maintains, often with fierce effort, one’s ongoing core identity, regardless of how the body changes, and changes in the the way people look at you and treat you. Work for the continuing self is probably the major challenge of growing older.”

On this he is in fierce agreement with Associate Professor Peter Hunter, a geriatrician and clinical leader at Alfred Health. ”The biggest issue for doctors in terms of the ageing process is not clinical, but managing the psychosocial aspects – how people see themselves in the community.”

Hunter is not expecting to see the 1946 babies coming into his care for another 20 years – he’s still largely preoccupied with looking after their parents. In that context, he has seen enough of boomers to be worried about what is to come.

”We’ve just seen the tail end of the ‘nation builders’ generation, a very stoic group, grateful for anything they get out of the health system, out of education, out of government.”

Their children have made it clear they expect rather a lot more. The boomers are well known to their health carers as educated, demanding, and very articulate about what they do and don’t want. They are very vocal in speaking up for what they expect for their parents, which can sometimes lead to difficult conversations about treatment. ”In some situations, where treatment is futile, we have to say no to people.

But some families want everything.” He is not relishing the prospect of telling the boomers, 20 years hence, that some of the services they expect will not be available to them. But he warns that unless there is a policy decision to significantly increase health spending as a nation, that will be the reality.

Considering their physical profile as they grow older, the New Old will not be cheap or easy to care for. ”Thirty years ago, the thing that killed people in their 70s and 80s was cardiovascular disease,” says Hunter. Now they will survive to acquire a different profile of ailments.

”In the next 20 years some of the real health problems will be neurodegenerative diseases, the most important one being dementia. The risk of Alzheimer’s doubles every five years after the age of 65,” says Hunter. A report by Access Economics for Alzheimer’s Australia estimates there will be 1.1 million Australians with dementia in 2050, compared with 245,000 today. Almost 25 per cent of women and 21 per cent of men aged 85 to 89 have dementia, rising to almost 50 per cent (women) and 37 per cent (men) at 95 years.

The other looming issue in healthcare is that many of today’s elderly are able to stay in their homes courtesy of informal support from extended family and volunteers. But with the fracturing of families and of the expectation that the young will care for their old, and the depletion of the ranks of people delivering services such as Meals on Wheels, the burden on state structures will increase at the same time as boomers are fighting to stay in their homes.

”A lot of baby boomers suffer under a sort of national delusion that the same benefits currently provided to their parents will be available to them in 20 years’ time,” says Dr Diana Olsberg of the University of New South Wales. ”I’m uncertain that this will be the case.

”Boomers are very proud of their independence. They certainly don’t want to be separated out into retirement communities as sort of older-people’s ghettos. They want to remain within the community.”

The area of her academic investigation is ”ageing in place – which is not necessarily that older people want to stay in the big family home, but nor do they want to be portioned off to some little bedsitting room”. Her surveys show older people hosting lots of visitors in their homes. They want room for hobbies and work. ”But there is quite a lot of acceptance of mobility and downsizing.”

Olsberg urges a shift in policy to encourage older people to downsize without the proceeds penalising their pensions, and to be able to adapt their living quarters to make them safer as they grow frail. ”If you look at the data, after they have a fall they just never recover, with huge costs to the state. If we can keep people living actively within their homes, this undoes a lot of the dire warnings on the health costs of an ageing population, which are predicated on long periods of hospital and residential care.”

Despite the reams of newsprint and scholarly studies devoted to exploring boomer character, their sheer number and diversity mean as a pack they defy generalities. But one of the dominant themes in the literature today is that many ageing boomers are afflicted by a sense of moral discontent, still searching for elusive happiness.

A survey released last month by the US Pew Research Centre underlined this thesis, painting the boomers as pretty glum. They trailed all other age cohorts in overall life satisfaction. Some 80 per cent of American boomers were unhappy with how things were going in the country, 21 per cent felt worse off than their parents at the same age, and 34 per cent figured their children would fare worse than them. (And by the way, they told the surveyors, old age begins at 72, NOT 65.)

One of the problems in gauging the mood of Australian boomers is that there is relatively little deep survey work locally, and the US and the British findings don’t necessarily fit here, says Associate Professor Elizabeth Ozanne of the University of Melbourne.

Nonetheless, the Pew findings resonate with a 2006 paper for the Australia Institute which argued that ”contrary to their image as successful and self-satisfied, many baby boomers nurse a sense of disappointment, a barely articulated sense that it was not meant to turn out this way”. The paper argued that the perception of the boomers as the ”lucky generation” was distorted by preoccupation with wealthy boomers, and obscured the starker realities of their lower-income peers.

How Australian boomers might respond to angst over life, the universe and everything is still anyone’s guess, says Ozanne. ”Will they become more narcissistic and consumerist, versus having real social commitments? It could go either way.”

Last year, she published a paper exploring the potential of boomers to negotiate ”a new social contract and cultural maturing in an ageing Australia”, a discussion which dug under the assumptions of who boomers are, to identify the realities of the subgroups most at risk as they age – the divorced, the lonely, the poor (who are disproportionately women), and ethnic and indigenous populations.

In the same way that some ageing experts want stronger policy on health spending and workplace reform, Ozanne would like to see a broader public conversation about ageing, one which encourages older people to rethink their social contribution. She wants to see campaigns eroding the ageism that still prevails in society. She is hoping this might in part be achieved as new pathfinders emerge – inspirational people who change the rules on ageing behaviour and become role models for engaged elder-hood.

As society adjusts to the realities of a new, mature demographic and all that entails, Simon Biggs points out that at an individual level, boomers have much to look forward to in their Third Age.

For all their youthful objections to conformity, most boomers toed the social line, escaping their families of origin only to find themselves locked into predefined roles. They married, became parents, got a job and a mortgage.

”As [psychoanalyst] Carl Jung observed,” says Simon Biggs, ” the cost of conformity in contemporary society is considerable when you look at the potential of most human beings.” Around midlife, people begin to feel constrained by their roles, but it is in later life that they might find the freedom to develop neglected parts of themselves.

There is, he says, capacity for a second-half epiphany. Again, he looks to Jung to explain the rich spiritual dimensions of later life.

”You are becoming more aware of yourself as a person, more individuated, and simultaneously aware that you are just one of the grains of sand on the beach.

”So you get a huge dose of being in perspective, as well as this notion of being more oneself.”

In terms of spirit and soul, ageing well is an act that can defy gravity.

Jo Chandler is an Age senior writer.

Editor’s Comment

How do you imagine your next 30 years? Hugh Mackay, who provided many of the insights in the article, has just released a book that addresses the critical issue that may be confronting many of us. His book, “The Good Life” investigates “what makes a life worth living?”. With changing circumstances as a result of moving out of traditional employment and limitations arising from financial and physical changes, defining and achieving successful ageing is liking to become a significant focus of the baby boomers over the  next decade.

At boomerageonline.com we invite you to start and participate in conversations about things that matter to you. Leave a comment, add to the dialogue, be part of the changes you would like to see.

Graham Forbes