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When Optimism and Denial Collide

There has been a lot of press lately regarding boomers who refuse to acknowledge aging.  For example, The Detroit Free Press offers one of many recent articles on how baby boomers view aging.  Among the highlights, a majority of those polled say old age begins at age 70 and a quarter of respondent’s say it begins at 80! A third of boomers polled feel confident about growing older, and a shockingly low percentage worry about dying.

On the one hand, I can understand these statistics as demonstrating the remarkable resilience this generation has always been capable of.  Boomers have a great deal of external and internal resources. They have always been, and remain, a model of strength and mobility. Even people older than boomers have shown that they can take down stereotypes. Consider one of the many You Tube videos showing seniors demonstrating their dancing abilities.

While it is genuinely cool that some people age in a way that allows them to remain active, I can’t help think about boomers and older adults who are beset by health problems. Such persons do not only refrain from dancing, they are unable to socialize much at all due to physical limitations. What worries me more is that some people are so in denial about their age and limitations, they put themselves at risk for illness or death.  For example, some seniors are hesitant to limit activities during the current heat wave, because they feel that the precautions geared toward the elderly do not apply to them.

Some seniors and baby boomers think that they can cheat aging and death. This is not just an interpersonal phenomenon. Consider all that we have been hearing lately about “curing aging.” Although it may be possible that we can extend life even longer, this remains debatable.  As I have said before, aging is not pleasant.  I have talked with a number of people who feel that living to 100 is an empty victory.

I wish we could have more balanced discussions about aging and death. Those who feel that aging can be prolonged have a point.  Good nutrition, compliance with medical regimens, intellectual stimulation, and (perhaps especially) exercise, really do make a difference. That said, some people have poor luck;  their bodies don’t work, even when they do everything right. I worry that an attitude of “forever young” carries the risk of subtly blaming people who can’t dance at the age of 90, or even 64. Additionally, denial of death has long-term consequences, with the main difficulty being that even if you deny fatality, it happens anyway. Some think it is better to be prepared. I am not so sure that I buy the need for planning entirely, but it certainly can help, depending on how one dies—or rather, becomes ill.

Staying young forever is a great idea.  I just wish it were true.

When Optimism and Denial Collide

Tamara McClintock Greenberg, Psy.D.

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APA Reference
Greenberg, T. (2011). When Optimism and Denial Collide. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 27, 2020, from


Last updated: 20 Jul 2011
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