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.
Elena Baker says
I am an AGNG 200 student at the Erikson School of Aging and I immensely enjoyed reading your article! I completely agree that we are lacking in communication between generations. I rarely see grandchildren make an extra effort to create a connection with their grandparents. The younger generation falls prey to ageism – false assumptions about the elderly. There are many stereotypes about the aging population, some of which are that they are slow, they are unable to drive, they are weak, or that they are forgetful. In my AGNG course I have learned the wrongness in believing those things. The aging population is the most heterogeneous of all. Some experts even believe that that stage of life could be the time to further develop and unlock the unused portions of the brain. I think “re-generating” society is a wonderful idea and something that would be quite beneficial to everyone. The older generation can receive a sense of meaning when they share their life experiences with millennials. In return the younger generation gets advice that might help them live a more purposeful life.
Joceline K says
Good evening, I am an AGNG 200 student at the Erickson School of Aging and must say that I admire and agree with all points made in regards to aging especially the idea that keeping a line of communication and interaction between the young and the older population will recreate a population of ” re-generated” society that will prevent boomeritis of the following generation. I am rarely around “boomeritis” persons and I feel that at times the instance I find myself interacting with an elder,my actions are scurried and feel no connection with them. But taking this aging course has uncovered to me the fact that interaction between the young and old generation is one that must be nourished and valued for when generation after generation follows they also learn and pass down wisdom attained from their elders. Through out the semester in the aging course, there are things I’ve learned that might be problematic in ensuing the idea of creating a cross generational society ( young and old). The main problem I see is the ability for the older generation and younger generation to actively interact with each other in this high tech world. This might become problematic. I think it is just a matter of refocusing the moral compass of most youngsters and having willingnes from both sides of generation to interact and exchange knowledge that can be beneficial to both parties And as long as the interaction exist with current and future young/old there will be no intellectual or spiritual boomeritis to worry about.
Eugeniya Hilzinger says
I totally agree, and have another idea for this. Hopefully, someone will call me back.
first person productions says
Jeanette has flagged one of the most addressable aspects of our entrenched ageism. Our reality is socially constructed and we are free to remodel it if we want to. Individually we can intentionally mingle across generational lines while we work on reconstructing our institutions to blend gen cohorts. One room schools for life!
Well said, no generation should be living in isolation. We need to value of the longevity dividened
I think that to establish more inter generational interaction we will need to seriously consider changing two different groups of people i.e. the segregated senior centers and the segregated high-tech millennials. Each of these individual groups is capable of helping and collaborating with each other. However; we will still need the right Government policies and the right Eco-systems in place for these relationships to happen naturally as required.
Elaine cheedle says
I’m on the verge of creating a program in charlotte that merges the need for seniors to engage with younger generations, and young adult needs to gain volunteer and comminity hours as part of their college entry requirement. Once they interact, they will realize the benefits go well beyond volunteer hour credits!
stuart greenbaum says
You nailed it with this sentence/sentiment: “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.”
David Nelson says
Jeanette you’re right on target about us Boomers thinking we’re invincible, still. I was a runner for decades and now I’m happy to get out daily to walk a couple of miles up and down some steep hills, smelling the fresh air, enjoying the creek sights and sounds, and just thankful to be healthy.
As far as curing Boomeritis, we need to consciously seek out volunteering opportunities between generations, especially with our own grandkids, don’t you think? Do we ask them what they are studying in school or the video games they’re playing? Asking someone to tell you about themselves wins friends of all generations and we might just learn something, right??
Diane Dahli says
I like the idea of re-generation. It’s a new term to me, but makes perfect sense. I live in a condo complex, which did not start out to be a closed community, but has become one. We go about our daily lives, interacting rarely with younger people—doctors, dentists, financial advisers all tend to be older in this city. Even our children are older now! And it seems we have less and less interaction with our grandchildren. So where are we to establish intergenerational interaction? Your suggestions, Jeanette, give me a place to start!