This week I read one of the most interesting pieces of literary journalism I have come across in a while. Lisa Miller published an article in New York Magazine about people who have children at advanced ages—meaning people in the fifth decade of life.
The article raises a number of concerns about the uses of medical technology employed to have a baby later in life. As I have written about here and elsewhere, medical technology can seduce us into believing that we do not have limits.
Although Miller’s piece raises a number of important controversies about having children later in life, I was reminded of an issue rarely discussed in the coverage of assisted reproductive technology and the media in general, that of women and men who decide they do not want children.
The hype about having babies often misses the fact that people are increasingly choosing not to have children.
A press release on 9-22-11 reports that older women are more likely to die of breast cancer. This finding may not be so surprising as age can be a factor in the outcome of many diseases, including cancer. The finding is striking however, because at least some older women are not receiving the same care as those who are younger.
The research team led by Professor Christos Markopoulos noted that they “observed that radiotherapy was administered less frequently and administration of chemotherapy sharply decreased with increasing age. Thus, it is most likely that under-treatment of the elderly may explain the worse age-specific breast cancer outcome found in our study.”
Others have found similar results when looking at women being treated for breast cancer.
It’s hard to know exactly how to interpret these studies. Breast cancer is a complicated disease and a number of factors can impact prognosis. Additionally, age and co-existing medical conditions can make certain treatments more risky in the elderly. I certainly do not know as much as oncologists who make treatment decisions on a regular basis. On the other hand, I am aware that many cancer trials exclude elderly patients.
Caretaking alone can time-consuming. As we know, however, caretakers often have formal employment. Whether caretakers are men or women, there needs to be better employment accommodations for our aging country.
In the specific context of chronic pain, the meaning of social support has to be modified. Social support is important for health and coping with pain, but the kinds of support provided matters a great deal.
I think the ways the feminist movement did not succeed is a more likely culprit regarding why divorce is common among boomers.
One of the great things about boomers is that they have been a generation that can take control. Look at the popular search results on weight and baby boomers and you will see a number of ways people can try to control weight. Just pick the right diet or exercise regimen; you too can look like Christie Brinkley. Really?
Aging is disappointing. Longing for a younger or a better working body is normal. However, aging can involve some advantages: true security, acceptance of imperfection, and knowledge about what we want from others, emotionally and sexually.
There might be some hope for women who are tempted to judge their appearance critically. Baby boomers, who began turning 65 this year, have the potential to teach us about aging and it’s resultant anxieties.