The year after World War II ended, 1946, more babies were born in the United States than in any previous year in the nation’s history, according to history.com. The birth rate continued to escalate during the next 20 years, creating what came to be known as “the post-war baby boom.” Now, the oldest members of this generation are entering their 70s.
At the same time members of this high population generation are entering retirement years, life expectancy is increasing. Life expectancy in America in recent years has reached an all-time high, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. By 2030, approximately one in five Americans will be older than 65.
A loosely structured organization called Conscious Aging Atlanta Group meets monthly at Charis Books & More in Little Five Points to discuss issues and ideas related to having a high quality life in later years.
Conscious Aging has no formal structure such as officers or an official membership roll. It is “lightly facilitated” by Lorraine Fontana, who describes herself as “an elder member of the activist community here in Atlanta.”
Fontana said she hopes other members will volunteer to facilitate when the topic of the evening is of particular interest to them. While there are no official rules, the group has guidelines—agreed to at the start of each meeting—designed to promote an atmosphere of respect to encourage participation while allowing others to participate.
“We’re a generation that always has spoken our minds. We don’t just accept things as they are; we seek to make them better. That hasn’t changed now that we’re older,” Fontana said.
The group that gathered Oct. 5 was all women, but that’s not the case every month, Fontana said. “The group is different every time. We have men come to some meetings, but generally we have more women.” The meetings are open to all who are interested in aging-related topics.
She explained that people come because they want to direct their own lives. “The group is called Conscious Aging because we want what happens to us as we age to be the result of our decisions, not decisions others make for us. We want to think about and talk about what the next chapter will be like,” Fontana said. Topics under discussion or planned for future meetings include health and wellness—including mental health—social contacts and community, housing and living arrangements, accessibility and disability, ageism and intergenerational connection.
“I would like to have us invite someone in to take about legal issues,” one member said. “I want to discuss such matters as creating a power of attorney or a living will.”†Members also expressed interest in the emotional and practical issues of caring for a parent or a spouse or partner who is ill or disabled.
At one point, members talked about societal perceptions of older people and language used to describe them. Several said they did not care for the word “elderly.” “While elder suggests a person seasoned in wisdom, elderly evokes an image of someone disabled by age,” Fontana said.
Members also said they want people to know that they are still active and able. “After all,” one in the group pointed out, “the presidential candidates from the two major parties are 69 and 70.”
Fontana said she has been a social activist all her adult life and has no desire to give up such activity because of her age. “I can’t march at a demonstration anymore, but I still want to be there and show support for things I believe in,” she said. “I think people who organize rallies should think of those of us who want to participate, but aren’t able to march or stand for long periods.”
The group, which has only been around a few months, spends its hour-and-a-half sessions in discussions during which attendees share personal experiences and recommend resources, books and websites. However, Fontana noted, “We hope that this group will grow from a place of sharing and expression into concrete actions, collaborations and community.”