Metro, Column

My Fear Of Growing Old In A Youthful City

Both of my grandparents are 86 years old and fit in very well on Sanibel Island, Fla., where the median age is just a little over 60. But after spending a week with my grandparents over spring break, I can definitively say that I am absolutely terrified of growing old.

The elderly (i.e. my grandparents) do everything at a snail’s pace—walking, talking, eating, cooking—you name it. Don’t even get me started on my grandpa’s driving. One time he pulled out of a movie theater parking lot into the opposing lane and didn’t realize it until I pointed out that minor detail (luckily, there was no oncoming traffic).

I don’t get to see my grandparents very often and Boston—like other big cities—is a sort of bubble of youth. When you go into the city and walk around, very rarely do you end up mingling with elderly people.

According to the 2010 U.S. Census, 10.1 percent of Boston’s population is over the age of 65 (13.8 percent statewide), as compared to 12.1 percent in New York City (13.5 percent statewide), 14.2 percent in San Francisco (12.5 percent statewide), 10.3 percent in Chicago (12.5 percent statewide), and 11.4 percent in D.C.

Compare those figures to the 14.1 percent of the U.S. population that is over 65, as of the 2013 Census, and a sharp distinction is apparent. I’m not going to go through and list every single metropolis in the U.S., but the trend is fairly clear and not altogether unsurprising: major cities are likely to have a lower number of residents over the age of 65 than the national average. In Boston, that number is significantly lower.

Perhaps it is due in part to the number of universities located in Greater Boston. Perhaps it is due in part to the strong startup environment that lures recent grads from across the country to set up shop in the city. Perhaps it is nothing more than a coincidence since firms generally employing middle-aged people who live in the city.

Whatever the reason, Boston is a city that thrives on the youth of Generation Y. For all the complaints that Boston gets for not doing more to enable a quality nightlife scene (MBTA, I’m talking to you), the city’s strengths lie in the opportunities it provides for the younger generations.

The difference between 10 and 14 percent isn’t all that significant when you think about it. And the demographics of all big cities are all relatively similar—despite Boston having less old people than New York as a percentage of population, they’re not really that different.

The charm of Boston and its big city life is the hustle and bustle of everyday activities. It is the ability to act on an idea that pops into your head and the willingness of others to go along with your plan, even if it’s a little crazy.

When you grow old, this slows to a meandering crawl. My grandparents don’t see their friends as often because it’s difficult for them to get around, so they get lonely very easily. They can’t travel as much as they’d like, and they certainly wouldn’t be able to go into the city on the spur of the moment.

The redeeming quality that I see in my grandparents—even as their physical prowess declines—is that they are fiercely independent. Even with a 19-year-old at their disposal, they never asked me to do anything they didn’t think they were capable of doing, even if it was difficult for them. I practically had to beg to help them out around the house.

Barring some fountain of youth drug that gets developed in the next few years, we will all grow old. When that happens, it is important to never give up our independence.

As college students, we don’t have to face any of the issues that grandparents everywhere struggle with, and it’s a luxury we can often take for granted. It’s probably a good thing to be scared of growing old, because it compels me to make the most of the time I have now. And Boston, with its seemingly unlimited supply of youth, is as good a location as any to take advantage of living completely in the present.

Featured Image by Francisco Ruela / Heights Graphic

March 12, 2015

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