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The New Senior Citizen | Spring 2005 Out Here Magazine

Retirement is a "golden chance to reinvent your life," says Geraldine Treacy, a recent college graduate and senior citizen pursuing a richer, more active life.

Living a longer, richer life

By Bethanne Black

Photography by Neil Wade

If the idea is to slow down once you hit retirement age, nobody told Geraldine Treacy.

At 64 years young, Treacy recently achieved a lifelong goal by graduating from Temple University, in Philadelphia, with a degree in journalism. She's now pursuing a master's degree in education. "I think there is a real need for teachers, regardless of age," she says.

Indeed, a common myth is that older adults are destined to slow down or become disabled, unable to contribute their accumulated talents and wisdom to society.

Nothing could be further from the truth. These days, they say 50 is the new 40. Or maybe it's the new 30. In any event, America's seniors are active, healthy, and on the move.

Consider these results from a recent national survey conducted by the Lincoln Long Life Institute, which questioned 500 Americans ages 70-79:

  • 64 percent of participants have volunteered for one or more organizations
  • 62 percent have hobbies
  • 26 percent take classes in subjects that interest them

Seniors not only are living richer lives, they're living longer lives, too. One reason is access to more and better medical care, says Dr. James Mold, a family practice physician in Edmond, Okla.

"The health care system has improved early detection of disease, which may help keep people living a little longer," Mold says.

Preventive medicine, such as colorectal cancer screening, mammography, Pap tests, and adult immunizations (primarily flu and pneumonia vaccines) also have helped prolong life expectancy.

So has kicking a bad habit. "Fewer people are smoking cigarettes as well," Mold says.

Additionally, more sophisticated medical interventions such as antibiotics, blood pressure medications, chemotherapy drugs, and better treatments for chronic diseases have increased the lifespan of those who have reached 65.

Treacy encourages seniors to think long-term. "I think as seniors, we realize that instead of having '10 years to go' until it is over for us, we could live another 20 to 30 years after retirement, so it is a golden chance to reinvent your life," she says.

"Fortunately, for seniors who want to continue working, companies are finding they need older workers because there aren't enough young people to fill vacant spots."

Treacy encourages older adults to stay active. "Excuse the cliché, but life is not a dress rehearsal," Treacy says. "With a lot of moxey and a positive attitude, a senior citizen can find meaningful things to do."

Bethanne Black, of Atlanta, is a freelance journalist who specializes in health care.