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The Perils of Aging for Men

The Perils of Aging for Men

By Dave Price

I’ve never been big on birthdays.

Since I was young, March 26th has really just been another day in the year for me.

But on my last birthday I arrived at what most people consider a significant aging milestone.

I turned 65.

With the exception that I would now be eligible to use the Medicare card the U.S. government had sent me earlier in the month, 65 didn’t seem any different than 60, when I started a 4-year stint as a DC-based educational consultant. Or than 64 when I decided to devote myself to freelance writing. Or than 59 (when I retired from my instructional career in education after 30 years) for that matter.

Actually, I’ve always enjoyed aging.

I wouldn’t want to be a child or a teenager or a college student or a young journalist or an advanced middle-aged teacher again. While it was true that I lost a few things (such as hair) as I moved up in age, I felt I had always gained much more than I had lost (and I’m not talking here just about weight).

In fact, I joked that while Shakespeare assigned seven ages to man, I only recognized two – the first 17 years when I didn’t have my driver’s license and the past 48 when I did. My wife of 44 years, Judy, would concur with that assessment, but she continually points out that acting like a perpetual 18-year-old isn’t my strongest character trait.

Apparently, despite’s Judy’s misgivings, when it comes to aging I’m lucky. New studies and reports are indicating that many men are having a particularly tough time with aging, especially from age 50 to 80.

Here are a few of the most disturbing findings:

A Canadian study on the physiological affects of the transition to retirement found that after retiring, many men experienced some or all of the following:

  • identity disruption since who they thought they were centered on the job they had
  • decision paralysis
  • diminished self-trust
  • an inability to form new relationships
  • an inability to find a purpose for continued living and
  • death anxiety

A University of California study determined that male retirees experience high levels of satisfaction directly after retirement, but unless certain intervening steps are taken, that satisfaction falls sharply a few years later.

In fact, a follow-up study by the Institute of Economic Affairs says that retirement increases the probability of clinical depression by about 40 percent.

It has long been established that men have the highest rate of suicide worldwide.

What is not so well-known is that the U.S. Center for Disease Control is reporting the highest increase in suicide is men 50 and over, while suicide rates for American men are highest among those 75 and older. The Mood Disorders Society of Canada is reporting similar findings except in that country men 80 and older make up the group with the highest suicide rate.

Meanwhile, studies around the world are showing that problems that can occur at any age are becoming exacerbated with men 55 and over.

For example, as we continue to live longer, there is less of a chance of permanent financial stability in retirement in terms of a lifestyle we would like to maintain.

Bluntly put, many men are terrified that they will run out of money no matter how much (or little) they have saved for retirement before they die.

Also, increased free time and worries about diminishing masculinity, financial concerns, and increased health problems are being singled out as main causes for increasing substance abuse among retired men.

Several studies have concurred that retirement often leads to excess alcohol drinking, which in turn can lead to addiction. It is believed that more than 3 million Americans age 55 or older suffer from alcohol abuse. Some estimates claim that figure could rise to roughly 6 million by 2020.

Then there is the related problem of drug abuse.

Obviously, Baby Boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964) were the first generation in modern history to receive wide spread exposure to drug use as teenagers. Many drug experts believe that exposure may be making it easier for aging Baby Boomers to turn to (or in some cases return or continue using) both legal and illegal drugs as they turn older. In fact, studies show that drug abuse among those aged 50 to 64 have almost tripled since 2000 and that rate is expected to grow as more Baby Boomers retire.

Divorce is another later-life problem for both aging women and men. In fact, at a time when divorce is becoming less common for younger adults, Baby Boomer (or so-called ‘gray”) divorce is on the rise.

Among U.S adults 50 and older, the divorce rate has approximately doubled since the 1990s. Among those ages 65 and older, the divorce rate has roughly tripled in that same time period. And here’s the alarming factor for men about those statistics – almost every study finds that, with the exception of economic stability, the effects of late-life divorce or spousal death are more troubling and lasting to men than they are to women.

Confronted with all these findings, it is evident that men are facing serious problems as they move further into this brave new world of increasing longevity. Of course, women are, too. But it appears that women as a group are handling these aging problems better than their male counterparts.

So where does that leave me and my fellow men?

The good news is that as with any problem there are solutions.

Some have already been discovered. Other solutions await discovery. The process of improvement won’t always be easy, but with sustained effort experts say it can be accomplished.

One of the greatest determiners of both true success and personal contentment is contained in a process informally labeled the 3 P’s. Those P’s would be passion, purpose, and perseverance.

So my plan over the next year is to devote a lot of my passion, a lot of my purpose, and a lot of my perseverance to examining the special problems of men and aging. Even more importantly, I plan to highlight solutions being proposed by experts to eliminate, or at least drastically reduce, these problems.

I will be reporting all that I find in articles right here on Booming Encore. I hope you will read what I write. I hope you will share the articles with others whom you believe could benefit from them. If you, or anyone you know is experiencing these problems now, I hope what I write will help.

But the great thing about our new interactive age of journalism is that you don’t have to simply be a passive reader.

You can get involved. You can suggest questions I should be exploring. You can share personal experiences that support or refute what I am writing. You can comment to make my writing more interesting, informative, and valuable. In short, to adapt an idea from 60s activist Eldridge Cleaver, you can be part of the solution.

And I’m sure we can all agree that helping solve a literal life-and-death problem is a pretty good purpose for any of us to have.

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Dave Price operates a freelance writing/speaking/consulting/tour guiding practice in Washington, D.C., where he focuses on 3 topics – the Baby Boomer generation, classic rock, and issues on aging, especially those affecting men. A former journalist and educator, Price is researching 2 books, one on the status of classic rock music and its songs, performers, and fans today and the other a DC guidebook designed especially for Baby Boomers.