Science Solitaire

[Science Solitaire] So you are old(er). Now what?

Maria Isabel Garcia

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[Science Solitaire] So you are old(er). Now what?
I think there is a lot more we can mine about aging and how we can evolve as societies with increasingly larger portions of it aging

One of my favorite writers of all time is Chuck Lorre. He is one of the writers of the series The Big Bang Theory and Netflix’s The Kominsky Method. When he was asked about five years ago what drove him to write The Kominsky Method when, unlike The Big Bang Theory, it was about a usually sad theme (aging), I remember him answering: “I was 66, but I felt 18 inside. Isn’t that great material for comedy?”

If you feel that you are younger than your actual age in years, then you belong to the majority of people who think that way. We all live in delusions to different degrees, I think, whether in depth, breadth, or length. “Depth” is how seriously you have to go into yourself to snap out of your delusions. “Breadth” is how far is the stretch you have made to extend your delusion – whether it is in the area of the kind of physical activities you can do, the romances you can get into, or the scope of food groups you can still eat without second thoughts. “Length” is how much time you stick to your delusions.

But being delusional about your age is not the same as being delusional that it is the sun that revolves around the Earth. From the studies I have read about the topic, being deluded is not always necessarily bad. In fact, in some cases, it could make us age well.

“Subjective age” is how old you feel, while “chronological age” is the number of birthdays you have actually had. “Biological age” is another concept, and it is the age of your vital systems and how well they are performing vis-à-vis the “standard” for your age group.

This is another one of those quirky things about humans. We come up with human calendars that sync with actual planetary and solar movements, observe that we age as these movements happen BUT do all sorts of things to ourselves (buy panaceas for aging), to each other (wars), and to the planet (climate crisis), and still think at the back of our minds that we and the planet (as we know it) will live forever. And then we do studies as to why we do this and what seems to happen when we know our actual age and cannot deal with the fact.

What has science found out so far? One study that I found interesting showed that it would seem that for those in middle age – which is generally defined in studies to be 44-64 – how old they felt did not have much to do with factors like having a partner. But it was different for folks older than that because having a partner made them feel a lot younger than they really were.

Another more recent study was very relevant in terms of work behavior of older people. It would seem that there is something beyond “subjective age.” The study showed that not just being aware of your age in years or how you feel but, most of all, being aware of age-related changes is a very important factor when it comes to the proactive behavior of older people at work. This is highly relevant in aging societies, where people in later stages in life would have to stay engaged at work for personal, economic, and social reasons.

“Proactive work behavior” could be “task proactivity,” “development proactivity,” or organization proactivity. The first one focuses on initiatives to do one’s core tasks, the second one is on initiatives for self-development, and the last one is on steps to help others at work and the organization itself.

It seems that being aware of your own age-related changes as “gain” – that you have more insights to share, less “stake” to have to run the rat race – is more strongly associated with positive proactive work behavior. While those who are more aware of the negative age-related changes are less proactive at work. This challenges the common belief that older people just uniformly surrender to the rest of their years passing them by. It turns out that people who accept what is changing as they grow older are able to see a lot more clearly where they can contribute more – and more likely, I think, in areas that younger people at work are still not able to see – to help the organization be stronger and better.

I think there is a lot more we can mine about aging and how we can evolve as societies with increasingly larger portions of it aging. Maybe that is time’s natural way of slowing humanity down in its runaway frenetic activity as a collective – better than any international treaty, protocol, or religion could.

I also still think just as education is not what you learned but what you do with it that matters, it goes the same for the span of our lives. It is not the number of years but what you did with it that is the essence of each of our lives. Do the most difficult things because having more time is a privilege. Having more years to change your mind on things when you were clearly wrong before, to forgive when it was unthinkable in your earlier years, to finally see that “self-enrichment” is half-baked and only becomes a full-fledged human story when you reach out with it and help others.

Having more time is a singular privilege of being alive, so now that you are older, how can you make the world better every single day for the rest of your time’s arrow? It is that one shot only you can make. –

Maria Isabel Garcia is a science writer. She has written two books, “Science Solitaire” and “Twenty One Grams of Spirit and Seven Ounces of Desire.” You can reach her at

1 comment

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  1. CM

    What a fascinating read!

    Why should having a partner be less significantly correlated to feeling younger, relative to their chronological age, among the study’s younger middle-age respondents than among the 65+ participants?

    What gives?

    My intuition tells me that younger adults’ sense of being young is more linked to abilities — pursuing an active lifestyle, working and earning, learning new skills, etc. — rather than relationships. As one enters into his/her 60s and beyond, those abilities naturally become limited if not entirely curtailed. Hence, older folks compensate: They switch to I-am-still-young-because-I-have-a-living-spouse mindset which affects their perception of how young they still are. That is likely given how often society equates being old with widowhood.

    It will be intriguing to do an empirical study on the correlation between subjective age and widowhood. A longitudinal study commencing immediately after losing a spouse or partner will be ideal.

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