By Richard Eisenberg
In her 70s, Dennis told herself, “I need to be engaged in things that I feel are important, with what I call ‘good people,’ ‘interesting people,’ people doing good work.”
For her, that included leading a retreat for the board of a convent.
“I think the way to be fulfilled is, rather than trying to seek happiness by saying, ‘How can I spend my money for a trip to the Caribbean and what can I buy myself?,’ it’s better to think, ‘What can I do for other people?’” says Douglas Kenrick, 74, an Arizona State University evolutionary social psychology professor currently on sabbatical.
Americans in their 70s often decide, “they want to engage in activities that may create a better future that they themselves won’t live to see,” Pillemer says.
In the words of the Greek proverb Encore.org Co-CEO Marc Freedman likes to quote: “Society grows great when older people plant trees under whose shade they shall never sit.”
Happy with their relationships
The AARP/National Geographic survey found that Americans in their 70s were especially pleased with their relationships with friends and family; 81% rated those relationships excellent or very good. Just 69% of those in their 60s felt that way.
The ponytailed Kenrick told me: “Now, most of my happiness and fulfillment depends on how my two sons and grandkids are doing.” He and his son David just published the book, “Solving Modern Problems With a Stone-Age Brain.”
But the number of relationships people in their 70s have has diminished over the years, according to the AARP/National Geographic survey.
“Making meaningful relationships later in life become more difficult,” says Schurman. “It stands to reason, because older populations are more likely to experience the loss of friends and the tightening of their circle over time.”
Wertheimer agrees, saying many work relationships are transitory and transactional. In your 70s, relationships are often what he calls “more authentic.”
Concerns about health prospects
The clouds that hang over the heads of people in their 70s, according to the survey: fears about their future health.
They’re worried about prospects for diminished hearing, heart health, stamina, bowel and bladder control, the risk for cancer and autoimmune disorders, and issues around mobility and cognition. Dementia risk, Pillemer notes, rises from 5% at 65 to 17% for people 75 to 84.
In a 2020 YouTube video, Age Wave consulting firm founder and CEO Ken Dychtwald reflected on what it was like for him to turn 70 : “I have to say, physically, it’s been a bit of a descent. I worry about the slope of that descent becoming more steep.” But emotionally and spiritually, the author of the new book, “Sages of Aging,” said: “I feel like it’s been a nice kind of ascent.”
The advice from aging experts in their 70s and 80s is to do all you can to stay as healthy as you can.
“During the pandemic, I saw two people,” says Dennis. “My daughter and my fitness coach once a week.” She likes to cite geriatrician Walter Bortz’s line: Disease in old age is not the enemy; it’s frailty.
Says Dennis: “I want to push frailty out to 100.”
To keep fit, Kenrick takes long bike rides and walked 10 miles shortly after his last birthday. Irving told me: “When you and I are done talking, I’m getting on my exercise bike and I’m going to do 10 miles.”
In his interviews with older Americans, Pillemer says, “I heard over and over someone who started as a tennis player becomes a pickleball player; a hiker becomes a walker. People who age successfully in their 70s optimize what they can.”
The boomer attitude hits 70+
Wertheimer thinks the upbeat attitudes of many people in their early- to mid-70s are partly because they’re boomers. It’s the way they’ve lived their adult lives, he believes.
“Their sense of exploration, of hope, of curiosity — I think those are traits that stay with you for life. And I absolutely believe that’s influencing their mind-sets,” he says.
“I see it anecdotally all around me,” Wertheimer adds. “The number of people in their 70s who are going on road trips to go to museums rather than just resorts? They’re learning; they’re curious. They want to try new things. I do think the seeds of being boomers in their youth — those don’t go away. And if they can apply that in their 70s, that’s a beautiful thing.”
The ’U List’ — worth watching
From time to time, I like to point readers to movies and TV shows dealing with retirement or older adults and there are two worth mentioning now because we all could use a few laughs.
The new comedy film “ Jerry and Marge Go Large ,” starring Bryan Cranston and Annette Bening and streaming on Paramount+, tells the real-life story of retirees Jerry and Marge Selbee who figure out a way to win the lottery and revive their Michigan town with the proceeds. My favorite parts are when Cranston’s character finds himself newly retired from his job as an automotive production line manager and needs to find a way to spend his newfound free time with his wife — a transition that’s often difficult.
And, just for fun, I’d suggest giving the new ABC game show “ Generation Gap ” a try; it’s on Thursdays at 9 ET/8 CT. Generation Gap pits a grandparent/grandchild team against a similar one. Host Kelly Ripa asks the older contestants pop culture questions about the world of Gen Z and the younger ones about people, places and things beloved by boomers.