5 Survival Issues in Old Age

Asked how I’m doing on my 73rd birthday, I say, “surviving.” For how long?

Posted Jan 12, 2019

Five Dimensions of Survival

I. The Earth’s Survival

Having breakfast with my daughter on my birthday this week, she said she thought it was insane to have children (which neither she nor her sister have), since the earth is hurtling towards destruction. I was forced to agree (although my son has three children), what with Donald Trump's threats, and ever-more-alarming news about global warming. Although these things are essential to everyone’s survival, I feel I have no impact on them—they are examples of “chaos theory” (a la Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park).

II. Life Survival

You have to stay alive, by definition, to survive. And that depends on health habits, health care, a life-preserving society and civilization, and the spin of the wheel. I have Medicare (God bless Lyndon Johnson) and live in New York City and can afford supplemental insurance so I’ve got as much going for me on this dimension as nearly anyone can. Overall, the U.S. is doing poorly, with a stalled (even declining) life expectancy that places us 64th in the world.

III. Economic Survival

This is another area in which a sizable slice of America is facing growing difficulties. For myself, after helping my three children to gain the means to assure their survival, I have diminished means for keeping myself afloat. Personally, I couldn’t make it in the lavish, expensive world of New York if I didn’t continue to earn money.

IV. Intimacy and Social Survival

As a divorced single man, I am part of a large minority (well over a quarter) of senior Americans who live alone. Moreover, the U.S. is not a good country for those without social supports. And loneliness detracts significantly from people’s health and chances for survival. Having pointed that out, I am probably above average in my social contacts and support network, due in good part to my good health and active professional life. In any case, I feel fortunate to be as well connected to the world as I am.

V. Purpose

As I pointed out in my last post, the Terman study of individual lives, originally geared towards IQ and genius, ended up finding the single greatest factor in both longevity and fulfillment to be having life-motivating purpose. In this area, perhaps alone, I feel in the upper 1-2 percent of Americans, since I am devoted to transforming our inaccurate and destructive views of the sources and cures for mental illness and addiction, according to which we seek to treat mental health as a disease rather than a social and existential resource.

And, so, I’ll—not exactly struggle—but work, at keeping going. And if you call on me tomorrow (unlike Mercutio in “Romeo and Juliet,” about whose addiction I famously wrote for Psychology Today), rather than finding me a grave man, you’ll find me humming along the streets of New York for a while yet.