It was on a seven-week solo hiking trip through Italy and Spain to celebrate her 50th birthday that Victoria Rose had an epiphany. Taking stock of her life, she realised that she wanted to make the most of the time she had left on the planet.
She quit her job as a real estate agent, embarked on a new career as a corporate trainer and wrote a best-selling book urging single, older women to grab life with both hands.
“We are elders of our time – we actually have a duty to stand proud,” she told The New Daily.
“We’re old and grey and saggy and we may not know how to turn our iPhones on silent, but life is much more than that,” Ms Rose, now 65, told The New Daily.
Feisty, genre-defying and determined not to be ignored, Ms Rose typifies the way her generation is redefining what used to be known as the twilight years.
From rock ‘n’ roll to free love and flower power, baby boomers have a history of turning social convention on its head like no other generation – and their attitude to ageing is no exception.
Everywhere you look
No matter the endeavour, boomers are making mischief. Take the world of music.
Rockers who made it big in the 1960s are still going strong now they’re in their 60s. The Who – the group who famously sang about hoping to die before they got old – have just embarked on a tour of the US and Europe in what is being billed as one of the most hotly-anticipated performances of the year. Closer to home, Paul Simon, one half of the legendary folk duo Simon and Garfunkel, has recently finished up a tour of Australia and New Zealand with comparative youngster Sting. And the Rolling Stones, of course, are still going strong.
In Hollywood, it’s a similar story. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel series follows the travails of a group of expatriate British retirees in India as they pursue extra-marital affairs, find themselves enmeshed in love triangles and attempt to track down lost paramours from their youth.
The current I’ll See You in My Dreams follows the story of a retired schoolteacher, played by Blythe Danner, who finds herself forced to contend with the attentions of her much younger pool boy and a dashing older man. And in the recent St Vincent, Bill Murray stars as an ageing, grumpy alcoholic who regularly smokes and gambles.
But wait. There’s a dark side
For some, however, there’s a darker side to the baby boomers’ “second youth”, at least when it plays out in real life, as opposed to concert arenas and cinema screens.
The National Drug Strategy Household Survey, released last year, showed that people in their 50s experienced the largest rise in illicit drug use of any age group, albeit off a low base.
Cannabis use, for example, increased from 8.8 per cent to 11.1 per cent among people aged 50–59. The research reflects trends overseas, with the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction estimating that the number of over-65s in drug rehabilitation will double between 2001 and 2020.
Just as troubling, recent research from the US-based Centre for Disease Control and Prevention found that the number of sexually transmitted diseases among older Americans is surging, with the incidence of chlamydia infections and syphilis among the over-65s now on a par with those in their 20s. Experts blame a combination of longer life expectancies, the widespread availability of Viagra and communal living in care homes.
Dr Stephen Carbone, policy, research and evaluation leader at BeyondBlue, says that there is a definite trend towards older people misusing alcohol, illicit drugs and prescription drugs compared with 10 years ago.
For some, substance abuse is a response to financial stress, health problems or loss of loved ones in old age – but for others, it is a re-adoption or continuation of behaviours learned early in life.
“If you have the attitude, or tolerance, towards these things, or you don’t think these things are unacceptable, then you take that with you into old age,” he said.
It’s all good
Happily, for the majority of baby boomers, like Ms Rose, the resurgence of their youthful gusto is an overwhelmingly positive development.
Social researcher Mark McCrindle says that many baby boomers are embracing the freedom of retirement in a positive fashion, seizing the opportunity to pursue further education, adventure travel and exercise.
“They’re doing what they’ve done throughout their lives, which is redefine another life stage,” he said.
“They’re younger than their age would suggest, they have money to spend and they’re the generation that grew up with the notion of growing old disgracefully.
“They’re much more active than previous generations.”