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Image by Ales Krivec on Unsplash.

I just saw a Medium article, “Everything changes when you turn 70.

Over the years I keep hearing about how “everything changes” at a certain age. The age is different each time.

Back in 2014,  Ezekiel Emanuel published an article in the Atlantic:  Why I Hope To Die At 75. That article has been quoted and misquoted  many times before we commonly spoke about a piece “going viral.” Emanuel is a respected bioethicist and oncologist at University of Pennsylvania, where he’s now a vice president who just won a major research award.

Ezekiel Emanuel doesn’t believe in assisted dying or suicide. What he’s saying is, “At a certain point I want no medical interference. If I live longer, I’ll be older…and bad things can happen after that.”

“When you get 50 it’s patch-patch-patch.” That’s what a friend-of-a-friend warned me, long before I turned the magic half-century. She’s not alone. A lot of medical screening recommendations begin at age 50. I ignored them all.  I didn’t see a doctor for the entire decade of my 50s. I didn’t need to patch and I wasn’t interested in screening.

“My parents were doing really well till they turned 80. Then everything changed and they ended up in a home a few years later.” That’s another acquaintance.

Anecdotal evidence supports him. A lot of people seem to agree: “There’s something about turning 80.”

Research also supports the 80s as a decisive decade. Researchers analyzed blood samples with hundreds of proteins. Their analysis predicted age accurately.  The research suggests that the “aging process” doesn’t hum along continuously throughout our adult lives. Rather it comes in bursts, most commonly at ages 34, 60 and 78.

Specifically, the researchers say

Waves of changes in the proteome in the fourth, seventh and eighth decades of life reflected distinct biological pathways and revealed differential associations with the genome and proteome of age-related diseases and phenotypic traits.

We’re getting little guidance on how to navigate these post-75 years. At least Ezekiel Emanuel is wiling to to ask the tough question:  If medicine saves me from dying of cancer, what will happen next?

There are 2 parts to this.

You do have a far higher probability of something going wrong after, say, 79. It might not be cancer or heart disease. It might be something that doesn’t seem serious but keeps you from enjoying anything meaningful. Arthritis. Dizzy spells. Fibromyalgia.

On the other hand, you could live a surprisingly long time. Back when Social Security first began, retirement lasted five to ten years. It made sense to cut back on productive activity with deferred rewards.

We still see high performers like Olga Kotelko (who died in her early 90s still going strong) and Willie Nelson.  From a Vanity Fair article, Jane Fonda at 85 admits she can’t do her old workouts at full speed; her personal trainer specializes in bodies over 50.

Today, the tradeoff is harder to evaluate. Change can happen overnight. Live like a short-timer with a life of luxury and fun? You could end up wondering what to do with yourself as you seek leisurely retirement years. Live for the future? You work at things you don’t always enjoy and you could end up wishing you’d allocated more time for fun.

This question is the one that ultimately raises a challenge, whether you decide “everything changes” at 50, 60, 70 or 80. And that’s a topic for another article.