According to the Chinese calendar, on February 8 we leave the Year of the Sheep and enter the Year of the Monkey. But for me, 2015 was the Year of Boomeritis.
Perhaps you’ve heard of the term. It was first coined in 1999 by Dr. Nicholas A. DiNubile, an orthopedic surgeon at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, who defined it as any injury incurred by a Baby Boomer, usually in the course of doing some kind of physical activity such as exercising or playing a sport. But I prefer to define it more broadly as a cognitive condition in which we Boomers mistakenly assume that we are the same people physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually as we were decades earlier. And act like it.
So imagine my rude awakening at the gym when I believed I could handle the same vigorous weight-training regimen I performed in my 30s. Wrong. I tore muscles in my right shoulder and pulled a ligament in my left wrist, which together required a year of physical therapy to heal.
Now lest it appear that I’m being ageist here, I can assure you I’m not. Ageism is the unfair misperception and discrimination that result from attributing something to aging that has nothing to do with it. But there is truth to the physical manifestation of Boomeritis. Physiologically, most of us will undergo some deterioration as we get older. Of course, one should never assume that every older adult suffers Boomeritis, as there are many in my generation and older who are more physically fit now than they ever were in their 20s or 30s, probably because they have shed bad habits and taken greater care of their bodies. But I suspect most physicians would say that these people, given more time, will also feel some physical changes.
Nevertheless –– and here is where Boomeritis itself promotes ageism –– if we have been living a life of vitality and purpose, we can’t possibly be the same people physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually as we were decades earlier. Nor should we want to be. Believing that we can (and should) halt time is an ageist attitude that does us a disservice. Human development urges us to evolve into beings with greater experience, wider perceptions, newer capabilities, and fresher possibilities for regeneration.
A surprising benefit from my bout with Boomeritis has been the chance to get to know a genial, highly competent physical therapist named Matt. A Millennial, Matt is in the fortunate position of working with older adults every day, getting to know and appreciate us as the complex, interesting people we are. Conversely, as he helps ease our pain and heal our injuries, he shares his interesting complexity with us. Similarly, during my bank visits, I thoroughly enjoy all-too-short, eye-opening conversations with the tellers and managers (all Millennials and Gen Xers) on various social topics. I have surprised them and they have surprised me as we mutually disprove the many false stereotypes of age. And I’ve developed a real appreciation for this intergenerational interaction.
In the course of a typical day (and with the exception of encounters with immediate family), I and many other older adults who are retired or live in generationally segregated communities or work and socialize only with others our age have very few personal interactions with younger people. And I’m convinced that we are the lesser for it. When nonrelated individuals of different generations are artificially separated, either by necessity or choice, what often results are an ignorance and intolerance of one another’s special insights that can be mutually enlightening and beneficial.
For my part, I hope to find more opportunities to mingle with decades-younger and -older people and, if I’m lucky, to establish friendships with them. I want to keep learning from them and, in turn, share my Boomer-based wisdom. As I see it, if we want to thrive, no matter our age, we need to find cultural ways to increase intergenerational communication, activity, and relationship. Precisely because we are in different places in the lifespan physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, we can enrich everyone’s life by helping one another to grow.
And maybe in the process, we can create a social environment that stimulates “re-generation” of all kinds and keeps people like me from falling prey to the cognitive condition of Boomeritis.