This month it’s my 20th anniversary on dialysis. Back in 2005, I am very sure I didn’t expect to be still dialysing (though I fully expected to still be here).
When people ask me the secret of successful dialysis I say, “Just keep turning up”.
And one failed and one iffy transplant later, here I am. A little worse for wear, but happy and healthy, and expecting to last for at least another 20.
This is not an unreasonable expectation. Unless you are living under a rock between sessions, you will know that on the life expectancy front, things have changed. A lot.
In Australia over the twenty years that I have been swanning around on dialysis, the number of people aged 100 or more increased by 263%. This is much the same in many other countries.
The interesting thing about this is that 50 years ago if I retired at my current age (63), my typical life expectancy would have been 5 to 8 years. We all know why. Life was harder and more physical and we didn’t worry much about what we ate, drank or smoked. The expectation then was that I would relax and enjoy myself, wind down, maybe play golf and socialise between doctor’s visits. After a few years, the grim reaper would come to my door. The end.
Not so today. A less physically demanding lifestyle, advances in medicines and biotech, and a better understanding of the benefits of exercise and healthy eating mean that most of us are likely to live on for another 30 years.
Childhood, Adulthood, Elderhood
Which has a lot of people thinking. Thirty years is a long time: longer that our childhood, longer than our teenage years, longer than most of us took to raise and release our kids into the world, and more than half of our working life.
Retirement seems a pretty lame word to describe a 30-year life stage. Like the Americans did in the 50’s when they coined the word “Teenager” to describe our adolescent years between childhood and fully-grown adult, we need a new word in our lifespan lexicon that reflects the challenge and the potential of this 30-year gift.
The one I like the best is Elderhood*. It has the right connotation: we are elders, with enough life experience and physical and mental scar tissue to have learned a few things that may be valuable to those coming after us. Things about life, about work, maybe even about love.
Elderhood is not just a made-up word so that marketers have a new demographic. It’s a state of being, and many over 60’s have already arrived; once they hear the term, recognise the rightness of it. Against all expectations when I was younger, I rather like being my age. I no longer work full time, but I enjoy the work I do between dialysis sessions and fill my time off with new projects (like MOOCs, this blog, Mandarin) and a fair dose of fun.
But if I’m going to be here in 2035, I need to think ahead. If retirement is the Autumn of my life, Elderhood is the Spring of new connections and experiences; a new phase of growth. What will I do? With whom? What do I like doing? Maybe a personal project or community service? Some Crowdsourcing? All of these? I need to think it through.
So I’m making a list, not of specific things, but of the attributes of activities that would suit me. Like:
- More a brain thing than a hands thing (I’m not super with my hands)
- Something that draws on my knowledge and experience
- Technology-oriented would be good
- Working with people in small groups
- The opportunity to be creative
- Be satisfying
- A clear start and finish (so I know when it is over)
- Each involvement is over a defined period time
- It leaves time and headspace for family and fun.
This is my first stab at visualising my Elderhood. It’s a movable feast that changes each time I think about it. But the seed has been planted. It will still involve “retirement” activities like travel and lazy days, but that’s just one part of a much more exciting future.
How is your Elderhood shaping up?
*Coined by Australian journalist and academic Val French