NEW YORK — People who equate growing old with illness, dependence and relative poverty are likely to say they don't want to live to an "old, old" age, according to experts who study aging.
The question, "Would you like to live to be 100 years old, or not?" was asked of 1,476 adults in a Media General-Associated Press survey, and 45% of them answered no. Researchers on aging say the high percentage of people wishing to die before reaching 100 is not surprising.
It is "their perception of what it's like to be old under today's circumstances" that leads people to say they don't wish to live to 100, said Dr. Robert J. Morin, president of the American Longevity Assn., which promotes research into aging.
Quality of Life
"Just surviving is not a substantial goal to people unless the quality of life is good," said Robert Morgan, academic dean of the California School of Professional Psychology who has conducted aging research for 20 years.
Helen Kivnick, a Manteca, Calif., psychologist and author, has interviewed hundreds of the "old old" in her research, and most of them "like being old, but they don't like feeling old," she said.
"What feeling old means is being physically disabled," she said in a telephone interview. "The second thing is not being able to care for themselves. The third is losing their minds. They're absolutely petrified of all three of those. I can think of only two or three people I've talked to who did not express those things."
"It's not just illness, it's the other deprivations that go with aging in our society," said Powell Lawton, director of research at the Philadelphia Geriatrics Center. "The loss of income is the second major deprivation after health."
Those who survive to 100 generally contradict the view that the "old, old" are sick and unhappy, Morgan said. "When we do talk to people who live past 100, they share certain characteristics," he said. "They tend to be people more often than not who really enjoyed their lives."
Lawton agreed. "The percentage of people whose quality of life is miserable is a small minority, no matter what the age," he said.