Friday, March 1, 2013

Working in retirement--at what age should you stop?

The Pope has just retired so maybe it is a time for us older folks to  reassess one’s ability to be in positions of power. The following story published on Feb 11 speaks to some of the issues older workers both men and women face and comes up with a conclusion that may surprise you.
Pope Retirement a Reality Check for Aging Business Lions By Makiko Kitamura, Drew Armstrong & Kristen Hallam - 

Life expectancy in the U.S. is now 76 years for men and 81 for women. Life expectancy is about 78 years in developed countries and 68 years in developing regions, the United Nations said in a report last year. By 2050, newborns can expect to live to 83 years in developed regions and 74 years in developing regions, it said. Those fortunate to live beyond their ninth decade will face a myriad of difficult hurdles as they age.

“There’s definitely not a magic number, but there are things that happen more as you age,” said Audrey Chun, 41, medical director of Martha Stewart Center for Living at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York. “As you start collecting these conditions where you have more than one chronic condition, those things can start taking a higher toll.”

By the time people reach their 80s, muscle mass decreases, and so do strength and endurance. Almost 70 percent of Americans between the ages of 85 and 89 have a disability, defined as a substantial limitation in major life activity, according to a 2011 report on aging by the U.S. Census Bureau and National Institute of Aging.
As conditions accumulate, so do the medications, which can lead to side effects that can leave people somewhat impaired, Chun said. Dementia and cognitive decline also kick in. By age 90 about half of people have some sort of cognitive problem, she said.
Difficulty performing errands alone and mobility-related activities such as walking and climbing stairs are the most common types of disability, affecting two-thirds of people ages 90 and older, according to the Census Bureau and National Institute of Aging study. Hearing and vision loss affect 43 percent and 26 percent respectively.
It’s not all bad news, said Thomas Kirkwood, associate dean for aging at Newcastle University in northern England, who has studied aging for almost 40 years.
The university’s Newcastle 85+ Study, which enrolled more than 1,000 85-year-olds from the Newcastle and North Tyneside areas, found that on average people had four or five age-related health conditions. Still, about 80 percent of them rated their health and quality of life as good or excellent, Kirkwood said.
The findings suggest that women may face more hurdles then men in the mid- and late 80s. At 85, about 37 percent of men reported no limitations to their daily living activities, such as cooking, bathing and managing personal finances. The percentage was about half that for women, Kirkwood said.
“It’s a very interesting paradox that although women live longer than men, women at the end of life experience more disability and ill health than men,” he said.
Most elderly powerful business people, though, have no intention of quitting if they don’t have to. And that may be the smartest decision they ever make, according to many gerontologists. In fact, hanging on to a job full of responsibilities and challenges may be the best thing for an executive’s health, said Barbara Messinger-Rapport, director of the Cleveland Clinic’s center for geriatric medicine.
“In order to age successfully, you have to have cognitive challenges,” she said. “You have to have social engagement, so you’re with peers and have meaningful activities. You need physical challenges to maintain your ability.”
Indeed, when it comes to aging, no rules apply.
Michael DeBakey, the U.S. cardiovascular surgeon who developed heart-bypass procedures that improved the lives of millions of patients and prolonged life for others, had a heart bypass at 97 and went back to work seven months later. DeBakey died at 99 in 2008. Former South Carolina Senator Strom Thurmond retired in 2003 and died later that year at 100, while his Democratic colleague Representative John Dingell of Michigan is the longest-serving member of the house at age 86.
“We need leadership in the whole business of getting older,” said Newcastle University’s Kirkwood. “Eighty-five these days is old, but it’s not terribly old.”

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