Paula Marie Usrey mug

Paula Marie Usrey

Paula Marie Usrey

I am a seasoned member of the ‘over 50 club.’ At 68, I’ve had the good fortune of being a member for close to two decades. I’m also an advocate for positive aging and productive intergenerational communication in the workplace, in the community, and beyond.

If you aren’t already a member of the 50+ group, I hope that you will also have good fortune of joining us in the future. We’re a large group. The U.S. Census Bureau indicates that our group now represents nearly 37% of the population in the United States. In Douglas County, we now represent an estimated 47% of the population.

Not only are we a sizable and growing group, but our membership is also open. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from — you can find a home with us. So that you will be able to enjoy your current or future membership in our group more fully, I’m going to share some insights based on current research, literature, and some of my own observations.

Turning 50 in America marks a significant shift for many people. We may even celebrate those 50th birthdays with black balloons, canes, or “over the hill” birthday cards. However, most of us don’t feel much different when we reach 50. Many newly minted 50-year-olds still feel invincible and full of youthful energy. We may also think of ourselves as having learned a few things over the years that make us more valuable in the workplace.

In reality, our bodies have endured a bit of wear and tear by the time we reach our 50th birthday. When I was in my 50s, I saw a wonderful physician’s assistant who gently told me that by the time we reach our 50s, we’ve pretty much run out of wiggle room with our health.

No matter how much we want to believe it, we are not going to be young forever. We are likely to be more prone to injuries, illnesses, and other challenges as we continue to get older. We have to be mindful of our lives in new ways.

As we move into our 50s and beyond, many of us will discover something that we believed only happened to other people — stereotyping and discrimination based on age. A 2019 ProPublica article titled “If You’re Over 50, Chances Are the Decision to Leave a Job Won’t Be Yours” outlined challenges older workers often experience. A 2017 Federal Research Bank of San Francisco study — one of the largest studies on age discrimination and employment — found that older women were more likely to be at a disadvantage than men.

Women typically do experience life after 50 in slightly different ways than do men. Because we are typically paid less, our financial futures might not be as secure. Women also tend to develop different kinds of health risks, including an increased likelihood of falling and breaking bones. At the same time, women tend to be subjected to more “elderspeak” (language and tone commonly used with young children). Personally, when people have used elderspeak with me, I try to use it as a teachable moment. In spite of any challenges, research has suggested that many women view life after 50 as one of the most liberating periods of their lives.

The good news for all of us is that we have a fair amount of control over how we age and how we want to experience the decades yet to come. Some who are just turning 50 could live another 30, 40, or 50 years — a whole new life could be waiting. The possibility of a second life could mean going back to school or becoming a business owner. For others, it might mean rediscovering their creative side. I know a number of wonderful creative souls over 50 who are writing books, publishing poetry, or undertaking powerful artistic projects. After 50, life is full of possibilities.

Because of the research being conducted on aging, we now know that staying physically and mentally active can increase our health-span and life satisfaction. After 50, we also start figuring out that we are mortal and aren’t going to live forever; that realization often prompts us to focus on what gives our lives the most meaning.

I believe all of us need to be aware of both the challenges and opportunities that come with natural aging. It is a different period than life before 50, but it can also be rich and meaningful.

Paula Marie Usrey is a retired associate professor of communication. She is the founder of BoomerBestU.com, a resource for positive aging. She also promotes positive aging by speaking and writing.

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