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What U.S. needs now: wise, old risk-takers.

"Third age calls for creation of new role

MINNEAPOLIS and ST. PAUL -- The fastest-growing part of the U.S. population is older than 85. They, along with people a few years younger, constitute a "third age" unknown in other animal species and in many other, less developed nations, contends gerontologist Msgr. Charles J. Fahey. This nation has no clear expectations of the role of older people, he said, yet "it is vitally important to build a culturally valid vision of what it means to be old."

Youth are in their "first age," and their role is to be learners, he said. Adults are experiencing their "second age," in which they produce and reproduce, he said. But the only markers of the "third age," until now, have been retirement and death of a spouse.

Fahey is a professor of aging studies in Fordham University's Third Age Center, president of the American Society on Aging and a member of President Clinton's health-care-reform task force.

In Minnesota recently, he brought his message to health care professionals at the University of Minnesota and to gerontologists affiliated with the Minnesota Gerontological Society, the Minnesota Area Geriatric Education Center and the Center for Biomedical Ethics.

At the university, he found that half his listeners belonged to four-generation families. He recalled that even in 1982, at the United Nations world assembly on aging, it was noted that of all people in the history of the world who had reached age 60, the majority were still alive.

Years ago, Medicare, Medicaid and the Older Americans Act resulted from the perception that older people are worthy of public attention, Fahey said, but "now, unfortunately, the image often is of the greedy geezer."

He advocated "challenging older people." They must not be greedy, must not merely be consumers whose pensions and Social Security depend on current productivity and who live off generations yet unborn, he said.

Instead, he called for a generation of moral entrepreneurs. The role the elderly must forge, in Fahey's view, "has something to do with continuation of the species" and something to do with preservation of the environment, for the credibility of the old in society will be restored only if they contribute as well as benefit.

"We in churches have been far too easy on the old," he said, noting that moral injunctions such as "visit the sick" or "clothe the naked" do not specify "until you're 65.' Fahey recommended that people plan for their third age well before retirement.

Married people need to redefine their roles as husband and wife when they no longer need to parent, he said. Still, like his own eighty-something-year-old parents, many cling to parenting. Fahey left home to enter the seminary more than 40 years ago, but his mother still urges him to get a haircut and his father complains that his suit is shiny.

Nevertheless, society needs people with memories of Vietnam, of the 1960s civil rights march on Selma and of 1940s polio epidemics, people who do not merely repeat boring tales from the past but contribute to current understanding because they "make sense out of their personal and communal history."

Pointing to Gray Panther Maggie Kuhn and to Pope John XXIII as models, Fahey said, "We need lots of wise old people," free to take chances and to be surprised by life, ready to rate persons above things as they influence the political realm.

Health, economic reforms needed as developed nations age

ROME -- The populations of developed countries are getting older, causing church and government officials to worry about the resulting economic, health and immigration issues.

While experts praise medical and scientific progress that extends life expectancy, they do not welcome the accompanying decline in the developed work's birthrate. The trend is toward a growing number of retired people and a shrinking number of economically productive people to provide a country's financial backbone.

This has created strains on pension and health care services, said a Vatican background paper on population issues. In some countries, reduced work forces have not been completely command for by new technology, it added.

The Vatican paper was made public during a U.N. sponsored meeting in Geneva on population problems in West, em Europe, the United States and Canada. Delegates met in March to draft a regional report for presentation at the 1994 U.N. Conference on Population and Development in Cairo, Egypt. A Vatican observer attended the Geneva conference. Statistics presented at the meeting showed that 25 percent of Europe's population will be more than 60 years old by the year 2025.

Italian government figures show that already there are 1 million more people over 60 than there are under 20. The developed-world trend is in direct contrast to the situation in the Third World, where the United Nations predicts 90 percent of the future world population growth will take place.

This means population is declining in financially better-off countries and rapidly using in nations unable to generate adequate economic and social development to meet needs.

One result has been major migratory flows from poor to rich countries. Both the Vatican paper and the regional report supported controlled immigration policies protecting the rights of immigrants, but they noted the social turmoil caused in many developed countries by a large influx of people coming from different cultural, racial, ethnic and economic backgrounds.

The imbalance in population structure can be alleviated only in a limited way through migration," said the Vatican paper. "The economic will to have additional manpower to compensate for the aging of the general population clashes with an emerging political will that emphasizes the negative aspects of immigration and advocates greater controls and even expulsions," the Vatican paper added.

The growing number of elderly people in the developed world requires social security reforms that provide greater economic equality across generational lines, said the regional report.

It advocated incentives for "those retirees able and willing to remain economically active" and favored "giving financial and other incentives to assist families and individuals in taking care of the elderly."
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Title Annotation:includes related article; aging expert Msgr. Charles J. Fahey
Author:Gibeau, Dawn
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Biography
Date:Aug 13, 1993
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