Many seniors (for the purposes of this piece, the oldest of the Boomer cohort and above) feel positively about their health:
Consider data from the 2017 National Health Interview Survey (the most recent available), administered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. When asked to rate their overall health, 82 percent of adults ages 65 to 74 described it as excellent (18 percent), very good (32 percent) or good (32 percent) — on the positive side of the ledger. By contrast, 18 percent of this age group had a negative perspective, describing their health as fair (14 percent) or poor (4 percent).
Many of those respondents cited a correlation between mental and physical health as being especially sustaining.
“Being healthy means being able to continue doing what I like: going to the theater, organizing programs, enjoying the arts, walking,” said Lorelei Goldman, 80, of Evanston, Ill., who has had ovarian and breast cancer. She also describes her health as “good.”
Or, the description of one’s health may be held in comparison to the standard of declining function – those who need skilled nursing.
Even when older adults are coping with medical conditions and impairments, they can usually think of people their age who are worse off — those who have died or gone to nursing homes, said Ellen Idler, a professor of sociology at Emory University in Atlanta and a leading researcher in the field of “self-rated health.” By comparison, seniors still able to live on their own may feel “I’m doing pretty well.”
The adage “what goes around comes around” is probably the most prescient in this sense: those who value health and function as they age are extremely tuned into their health, and they’ll do what they can to maintain it.
Although Laurie Brock, 69, of Denver, has severe arthritis and systemic lupus erythematosus, she considers her health “very good” and credits her optimism, close relationships and “extremely active life.” Poor health would mean being bedridden, “not being able to go out or be as mobile as I am” or extended suffering, she said.
“My attitude now is ‘I’ve lived 70 good years, and I hope the next years are rich as well,’ ” Brock said. “I think most people fear old age. But once they get there, it’s like, ‘Oh, I’m still going, I’m still okay.’ And fear becomes acceptance.”