With the first wave of baby boomers set to hit 60 in 2006, the White House Conference on Aging begins today to grapple with the policy implications of an older population. Dr. Andrew Weil, one of the leading authorities on alternative medicine, reflected with ABC News on what it means to grow older in America.
Dr. Andrew Weil: I had thought that turning 50 was going to be the big milestone. But, in retrospect, it wasn't. You know, I think life went on pretty much as usual. But turning 60 was different for me. I think it was impossible to avoid the fact that I'm in a different phase of life.
I think in this culture, we are entirely youth-obsessed, and so we view aging as a catastrophe -- that it only brings negatives. When you look in other cultures where aging looks different -- and the example that I've used in my book, the main one, is Okinawa at the southern end of Japan -- whole communities make efforts to include the oldest [of the] old in all community activities so they have a chance to interact with people of all ages.
I have to say, coming there as an American, what most struck me was the different cultural attitude toward aging. The oldest old are really honored. And they're celebrated. And they look different. To me, they're beautiful. And I think beauty has two roots. One is good health, and the other is your relationship to yourself. And these old people I saw there, they like themselves. And they are happy with being old.
My concern is when people do things -- you know, whether this is Botox or cosmetic surgery for the purpose of making it easier to pretend that aging is not happening. I don't think that's mentally healthy. I think it is healthy to observe the fact that we're aging, that we're moving along this continuum of life. I don't think it's good to deny that.