Can We Afford to Live 100 Years?

“If we’re lucky we’ll grow old.”  I’ve heard. In my opinion, it’s only lucky if you have all your faculties about you and aren’t a burden to anyone else.

My mantra for years has been ‘I don’t want to outlive my usefulness’.

Usefulness: 1. Capable of being put to use or serving a purpose.

                 2. Having value or benefit, or bringing an advantage.

Whether that means writing something useful, or creating a work of art someone enjoys, or cooking a satisfying meal for my family… I need to feel I contribute.

My father-in-law, who I love dearly, has been retired now for thirty four years. He will tell you flat out he’s the laziest man alive.

In his defense, he worked like slave labor on a farm from the time he was seven until he left at twenty years old. Shortly thereafter he began working for the S.S. Kresge Co., who kept him as an employee when he enlisted for World War II so he would have a job to return to.

Good luck finding any company willing to do that today. It was his career until he turned sixty and retired. It provided a good living for his family and a good pension for his golden years.

He’s been a widower for twenty four years now, which is mind boggling to all of us who didn’t believe he’d last a year without mom. The man could barely boil water let alone cook for himself, yet he’s managed.

Up until this past year he has been quite self-sufficient. He even kept driving until last February.

The past nine months have been a very steep and fast decline for him mentally but he keeps on going. His goal is to live to be one hundred years old. I’ve been asking myself why for quite a while now. Not because I want him to die, but because I wish he would live.

What constitutes living? I’m sure it means different things to different people but, think about it. Would you consider just being alive with no purpose or goals other than hitting that magic number living?

There’s no right or wrong answer here. But…it begs the question, are we living longer than we really should?

Here in the U.S. we are dealing with phenomenal debt. You may have read about it. There is still a fiscal cliff we are headed for, it’s just not certain whether my generation, or my children’s, or my grandchildren’s will be the ones going over it.

Much of this debt comes from government services like Medicare and Medicaid. I must tell you when my husband went on Medicare this year and we saved over $700 a month on our health insurance I was ecstatic. Even with Obamacare health insurance won’t be cheap so every dollar matters.

With every step toward better health care comes another step toward more elderly people to care for. We have drug companies coming out with magic pills almost daily. To what end?

The over sixty-five age group represented 12.4% of the population in 2000. It’s expected to reach 19% by 2030. The majority of this age group is no longer contributing to the work force. And even if they are financially well off they are still entitled to the same government services. Should we have regulations for incremental benefits based on your personal wealth?

We have a majority in the House of Representatives that put millions of people at risk of losing benefits they truly need to spare the top 2% of the population having their taxes raised. Not because the people of this country wanted it that way but because the representatives had made a pledge to a wealthy conservative libertarian who was holding their feet to the fire.

As a Baby Boomer I see the population aging along with me and wonder what might it be like if we were to all live another thirty years.

Medical miracles happen so frequently these days you can hardly keep up. As much as I want a cure for cancer and that magic diet pill that will keep us all in better shape I wonder if we can collectively afford it.

Part of the reason healthcare is so expensive, in my opinion, is due to drug companies. Having worked in advertising for many years I’m very aware the cost of broadcast and print ads. Who do you suppose is footing the bill for all those Viagra ads? Then each ad ends with “Ask your doctor….” and they send the sales team out to every doctor’s office to load them up with samples so they can distribute the drugs when you do.

It takes about twelve years to take a drug to market. Only 5 in 5,000 are approved. Clearly it’s an expensive proposition. There are reports drug companies spend nineteen times more on self-promotion than research. Call me cynical but that seems a bit out of whack.

As you can see, I have a lot of questions and no true answers here. These are some of the things that keep me up at night. I would love to hear your opinion on these issues.


  1. OpinionsToGo

    Interesting and thought provoking. You certainly did your homework.

    • Barbara

      I do try to research what I’m writing about. It takes the most time of all blogging.
      Thanks for stopping by.

  2. “What constitutes living? I’m sure it means different things to different people but, think about it. Would you consider just being alive with no purpose or goals other than hitting that magic number living?”

    Oh Barbara – the very thought of being alive, but not truly living/having a life is such a fear of mine. I’ve seen both sides of it in recent years through elderly friends and family. The person who physically couldn’t have been more fit, but mentally didn’t recognize her friends or even her daughter (who she lived with) and needed to be reminded daily of who she was. I also have a family member who couldn’t be more mentally competent, but due to a lifelong medical condition (which has dramatically worsened this year) now requires round the clock care. She no longer has a life to call her own and is facing a horrible depression from it.

    I hear of so many people who have to care for an elderly parent and my heart breaks for all involved. The loss of the parent’s independence is horrible. The stress (physical, monetary and emotional) on the caretaker is even worse.

    These are the things that keep me awake at night and there are no easy answers to any of it…..very thought provoking.

    • Barbara

      Honestly Adrienne if I had to choose I would rather be mentally strong and deal with physical issues than the other way around. Even for writing now there is software you can use. Look at Stephen Hawking! But when the mind goes I believe you are just a drain on everyone and I’d rather not.
      Thanks for adding to this conversation. I appreciate your input.

      • Yes, I agree. In fact research has shone that people do not view physical limitations as a road blog to successful aging at all. The study was done with a group in San Diego I think.

        And the question is “Is there any choice?” Don’t we need to live a promising fulfilling life in spite of all the horrible predictions and let nature take it’s courses. We do have some choices but we may live a very long time so we had better be ready to do what we must.


      • Barbara

        That’s true for so many of us. We hope there won’t be debilitating issues, either mentally or physically. The chances of that are slim, but we can hope. Knowing what I know about my father-in-law’s decline I just know I don’t want my kids faced with the decisions we are now.

  3. I echo your sentiments and it keeps me up at night. Every month, a group of us volunteer at Mother’s Kitchen which feeds the homeless and any one in need of a hot meal. Many of the people who come are not homeless but elderly folk on a shoe string budget. They can no longer work and their pension barely covers food. They come, they eat, they take extra bags of food and they manage it for as long as possible. Some have to choose between food and life maintaining medication… One day, it could be me, you, anyone really. I have to say that we need aid for the elderly; many paid their dues in the work place and can no longer work. If the wealthy pay their equitable share, it would make a difference.
    Happy New Year!

    • Barbara

      There are so many scary scenarios Elizabeth. Honestly, my father-in-law has means, BUT, if he needs more care due to dementia he could conceivably run out if he lives to 100. And is it really living?? That’s my big question. So many questions…not enough answers. I don’t see that changing soon either.
      Thanks for all you do for those in need! You are a wonderful woman.

  4. Glad you brought this up B………these sorts of ethical dilemmas need our attention more than ever before, given our aging population and advancing technology.

    • Barbara

      I know Stacia. It seems like we’ve always known this might end up being a problem but it wasn’t very real before. Now? OMG.

  5. Janette

    Had a conversation with my sis in law last night. Her Father in law is diabetic- but refuses any more intervention. He is 88. Last night she admonished him for eating not one–BUT TWO- popsicles. While we were talking she stopped. her conversation follows (all her- I said nothing):
    “He is 88”
    “He loves popsicles.”
    “The love of his life is gone and we believe they will live forever together in heaven.”
    “He is blind and can hardly hear.”
    “He can no longer play the piano.”
    ” Heck, he can eat whatever he wants!”
    I know today will be filled with home cooking that he loves. He won’t overindulge…but what the heck…we all have to die of something. I hope that his last days are filled with joy of just being alive again and not over managed.

    • Barbara

      That’s so true Janette. I was giving dad a hard time last summer for eating too much processed junk food, but then I thought exactly the same thing…he’s 94 he can eat whatever he wants!
      Thanks for sharing.

  6. If I can be like my Aunt Rose who just turned 90 and luckily still has all of her marbles AND her health, I may want to stick around awhile. Otherwise, I’d like to follow in my Mom’s footsteps and go peacefully into the night at an earlier age before things start falling apart, or I become yet another guinea pig for big pharma.

    I love what Janette wrote about the popsicles — what’s the point of being alive if you have no pleasure?

    • Barbara

      Yeah, I don’t want to be a guinea pig for big pharma either Lee. I wouldn’t want to leave this world as early as your mom, but the way she went would suit me fine. I agree about Janette too.

  7. Such a thought provoking post. My mother-in-law was in her late 80’s when she just gave up. She was healthy but decided she’d had enough of life, and within 6 months of telling us her feelings, she died. Before that I admit to having the same thoughts as you. What kind of life is she leading? She did nothing but sit in front of the TV and work crossword puzzles. Though, I suppose she had earned the right to do what she wanted. Thoughts, feelings, opinions, but no right or wrong answers as you say. It’s the cost of aging, as you point out, that worries me along with the mental and physical decline. Coincidentally my fiction entry this week deals with end of life decisions. Phenomenal post, Barbara.

    • Barbara

      Thanks Steph and thanks for sharing. I just don’t want to lose my mind. I told my son to just ‘put me down’ like we have our beloved dogs when the time came. I’m really ok with that if I can’t really live any longer.
      Looking forward to reading your fiction piece!

  8. I have lots of examples: my dear Dad who had an massive heart attack and died at the age of 75 with his mind and body intact (he’d been out sailing his model sail boat that day…he and I had a wonderful conversation that morning), but who would not have been able to afford to live longer unless he could continue to work part time, which he did; and as much as I miss him, I am grateful that I can remember him the way I do and not as an “old man” who lost his mind/body.

    My FIL is well into his 80s with a sharp mind, but depressed and with Parkinsons and a body that is failing (he has a wife who is 20 years younger and who manages money and insurance like a hawk);

    And then there’s my grandmother, who is 95 and has lost her mind but who’s body is doing amazingly well (and who inherited big money from a boyfriend so she has no financial worries…and she has me to handle her business).

    My husband and I want to go out like my Dad did…

    • Barbara

      I’m with you on that Karen, I want to go out like your dad, too.

  9. Great questions Barbara, and if I had the answers I surely would not be a politician 🙂

    Living in my mind is experiencing new things, challenging yourself and loving. Once you stop doing those things, you are no longer living: “Get busy living or get busy dying.”

    My mother, who is 76 is one fine example of living. She constantly amazes me with her trips to Cambodia, Italy and the south of France, painting everything along the way. This summer she’ll spend two weeks on the coast of Maine taking a painting class. She is my example for growing old with grace. 🙂

    • Barbara

      I hope to age as your mother has Bill, busy and gracefully. Thanks for sharing.

  10. Thanks to you Barbara but also all your readers that have left a comment about this subject. It has been very interesting to read it all and reflect all opinions and experiences. I can just wish that the system with social care that we have in my country won’t be deteriorated when I get older.

    • Barbara

      Thank you Ella. I believe this problem is becoming universal and it’s something we all have to be aware of and become a part of the solution.

  11. It’s a good question. I’ve an Aunt of 97 who has been in pretty good fettle until Christmas day, when all hell broke loose and she was taken into hospital where they seemed to spend forever wondering what the matter was. Now she is more stable but her condition asks all sorts of questions. She is like an icon in the family, and she wants to live, at least until some big family party in May. Her “use” is in the spirit she exhibits but it’s a difficult one to be sure

    • Barbara

      I hope she makes it through the party in May Peter. I’ve read how people will hang on for a specific event. Makes sense to me. I also feel someone like your aunt with a great spirit is quite useful. My father-in-law is a grouchy old man, at least with the family. Trouble is, I think I’ll be a grouchy old lady if I’m set with limitations. Don’t wish that on anyone!
      Thanks for sharing!

  12. I’ve read the comments here and spoken to so many people about this, and we all SAY we don’t want to be alive if we don’t know what’s going on, or if so old and sick we need someone to bathe us, change our diapers, yet for some reason, we all seem to accept it when it happens to us. The perfect example is a friend of mine who is 54. Her husband, 60, was given 3 weeks to live. He is a huge macho, ex-rugby player, with a BIG EGO. Well guess what, his poor wife and kids are cleaning him up, and he’s on morphine and cries in pain during the night, and his wife is taking all kinds of pills and drugs and cannot cope. My question is: this guy would have been the first to say, “I never want to be a burden on my wife and kids.” So my question is: “Does something make us change when this happens to us?” I really don’t get it.

    • Barbara

      Now that’s a good question Sonia. Someone mentioned a grandmother who had Alzheimer’s but seemed blissfully unaware and happy. That’s the opposite of how most of us would handle it, I think. My father-in-law is crotchety to begin with and now that he’s realizing his mental failing he is truly angry and sad. I know I would be like him.

      With someone who’s 60 maybe your friends husband believes they’ll find a cure if he hangs on. We all want to believe in miracles, and my husband is a walking miracle,(see While You Were Sleeping ) but when it comes to the burden you place on others it’s a different story. At least I think it is.

      This post has brought up more questions that I had initially. It is such a complex issue and it’s facing each and every one of us.
      Thanks for sharing a different perspective Sonia.

  13. I have had two dear friends in my life who influenced me so much I cannot begin to describe their impact on my life. Joe, died when he was in his Mid-40’s – I think I’m older today than he was when he died. He was afraid of life, didn’t live to the fullest and was sad and lonely, even though he had a number of good friends who adored him. Even though he was not a physically well man, heart disease and he died of leukemia, he did, however maintain one of the funniest outlooks on life and had the most foul and funny humor. I miss him still, almost 20 years later. My other friend, Sally, lived into her 90’s. Worked every day of her life nearly to the end. Drank Southern Comfort with 3 cherries, and went out to the theater, dinner and visiting most every night. She knew how to live and enjoy life and wasn’t afraid of much. Primary lesson learned, I don’t want to be afraid of life. You have to enjoy life, live it and be present because you could be gone tomorrow, so what’s the point in being afraid? If you live into your 40’s or way past your 90’s, live a life that’s filled with good things, good people, laughter, happiness and love.

    • Barbara

      Here! Here! Denine! So well said. Thank you.

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