Men and Aging

5 Things Men Fear Most About Aging
man-looking-up

Worried about getting old? Who isn't -- except perhaps those who are already unmistakably there. Survey after survey shows the elderly are more content with life, less depressed, and less fearful of death than the young.

"I'm a lot more sanguine and comfortable about aging at 76 than I was at 56," says George Vaillant, professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School who codirects its Study of Adult Development.

In the meantime, though? Guys in midlife harbor plenty of fears when they peer ahead. (Women have their own, slightly different set of aging fears).

Among men's top fears about getting older:

Men's Aging Fear #1: Impotence

"No question that men worry more than women about performing," says Ken Robbins, a University of Wisconsin professor of psychiatry who's also board certified in internal medicine. "When libido starts to diminish or things don't work as well as they did before, it's very common for men to worry that they'll embarrass or humiliate themselves."

Perhaps performance anxiety isn't surprising, given a 2008 British study that showed men think about sex 13 times a day, compared to 5 times a day for women.

The prospect of impotence was scarier than cancer or death to readers of a men's magazine in a 2001 poll. Perhaps there's a good medical reason for this: Otherwise healthy men who have erectile problems have been shown to have abnormal coronary tissue, higher incidence of high blood pressure, high blood fat, and other markers of heart disease.

Fear fighter: Have your cholesterol checked. Three-fourths of men with erectile dysfunction (ED) have abnormal cholesterol. "Two-thirds of men who've had heart attacks had ED that predated angina by at least three years," says urologist John Mulhall, director of the Sexual Medicine Program and the Sexual Medicine Research Laboratory at Weill Medical College of Cornell University in New York City.

5 Things Men Fear Most About Aging

Men's Aging Fear #2: Weakness

It's said that knowledge is power -- but for men, so is physical power itself. "Men value strength and vigor more -- and when it starts to slide, they take it much harder than women do," Robbins says. "Losing physical strength adds to their overall sense of loss: 'If I can't lift things, what kind of man am I?'"

Feeling weaker was named one of the most dreaded parts of aging for nearly 9 in 10 people surveyed earlier this year by the American Geriatrics Society Foundation for Health in Aging along with Abbott Labs.

Fear fighter: Start (or keep up) resistance training and a healthy diet. Only 25 percent of the 1,000 adults in the AGSF study made strength training part of their everyday routine, even though this basic can protect muscle health.

5 Things Men Fear Most About Aging

Men's Aging Fear #3: Retirement/irrelevance

The prospect of retiring fires enormous anxiety because it, too, begs the question, "If I'm not my career, what am I?"

"Men fear retirement because it's how they define themselves and how they fill their time," says geriatrician Laurie Jacobs, director of the Jack and Pearl Resnick Gerontology Center at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City. In the U.S., reaching retirement age tends to coincide with having your opinion solicited less and becoming more "invisible," she adds. Net result: a huge ego blow.

Women have an easier time giving up work, psychiatrist Ken Robbins adds, because they more quickly fill its gap with friends and children.

Fear fighter: Avoid being sidelined by staying involved, even if it means finding new ways to do so. Try to follow new technologies, stay interested in younger people, reinvent yourself by discovering a new meaning and purpose to your life post-retirement. Or keep working. Above all, stretch yourself to keep social networks strong.

Jacobs foresees the coming wave of baby-boom retirees reshaping retirement and how aging itself is perceived "because they've changed every other life stage as they've gone through it."

5 Things Men Fear Most About Aging

Men's Aging Fear #4: Losing wheels (and independence)

From his first souped-up junker to his badge-of-success sports car (or midlife-crisis convertible), what a man drives reflects his very identity. In American culture, cars also represent freedom, independence, and the endless possibilities of the open road.

The prospect of having to give all that up -- which many men first think about when they see their own fathers turning in the keys for safety's sake -- is scary indeed.

Driving is also emblematic of another fear: Becoming dependent on others to meet basic needs. "It's no coincidence that the men with the highest social status in assisted-living communities are the ones who have driver's licenses," Robbins notes.

Fear fighter: Consider the facts. Many older adults continue to be able to drive safely into their 70s and 80s. A refresher course can help. But know that this is one area where the greater good -- the safety of others --should trump private fears, when the time comes.

5 Things Men Fear Most About Aging

Men's Aging Fear #5: Losing your mind (or your wife losing hers)

Perhaps recent headlines are scaring more men into the fear of Alzheimer's: Men are more likely than women to have mild cognitive impairment (MCI) -- sometimes called "pre-Alzheimer's" -- and get it earlier, according to a Mayo Clinic study in the September 2010 journal Neurology. Nearly one in five men ages 70 to 85 have the condition, which falls between normal forgetfulness and early dementia.

More women, on the other hand, actually develop Alzheimer's disease. But that, too, is a scary prospect for their mates, thrust with little preparation into a caregiver role. "Most men haven't done too much caregiving," Robbins says. And nothing dashes the fantasy of a footloose-and-fancy-free retirement like tending full-time to a partner who doesn't even know you.

Dementia was the number-one health concern of 12,000 Americans (both genders together) in 2010 Bupa Health Pulse, a survey conducted by the British healthcare company Bupa.

Fear fighter: Know that only about 15 percent of cases of mild cognitive impairment evolve into dementia each year. (If you're married, you may be protected; MCI is highest in men who were never wed.) No surefire ways to prevent Alzheimer's have been found, but a heart-healthy lifestyle may lower the risk.

As for facing a journey of dementia care, one silver lining is that more and more men are caregivers today. And unlike a generation ago, many great resources now exist to support inexperienced caregivers.


10 months ago, said...

I have to be honest, I was surprised by the top five concerns men have per the referenced study. Perhaps it's just me, but for the most part, these concerns seem kind of primal. I had hoped we men, by now at least, would have evolved beyond fearing impotence more than death itself. After all, there an abundance of ways to have sex and please your partner. For me, there is no ambiguity where my number one fear is concerned. I fear failing/leaving my children more than I fear anything else. It's amazing that the male gender has been able to realize such remarkable feats throughout history (unfortunately, that includes causing monumental destruction), while at the same time having involved so little in so many important ways and fruitful ways. I'm just saying..


over 1 year ago, said...

1 to 5 all important but not in that order, also Religion or lack of next life convictions may outweigh all the other 5 as outlined by your comments.


over 2 years ago, said...

This.. Coming from a woman


almost 3 years ago, said...

Both this article and the companion piece on Fears Women Have About Aging were sensitively written, highly informative and resonated deeply with me.


almost 3 years ago, said...

Extremely insightful. I have sent it to my seven children so they can see some of my concerns without me having to explain them. Very Helpful!


almost 3 years ago, said...

Number 3 and 4 hit home for me. I had a stroke at 56, and by 59 was out of a job. On top of that, I started having seizures every 6 months so I could not drive for the next 6 months. The seizures are under control now but i still do not have a job. The hard part about #3 is that I had been an executive at a major technology firm and miss the workday activity and in paticular my interactions with my client. But the Worst thing about #3 is that i feel i have lost ALL respect from my wife.


over 3 years ago, said...

Soon 81 and think life is great! Have diabetes 2 - under control. Atrial fibrilation - under control. A couple of bad knees, manageable and a little skin cancer on my bald head. O.K. Can still get it up and make love once a week, on average. (Wife is 10 years younger.) Walk daily. Pensions not great but adequate. Teeth being attended to. Ove4all - I figure I have at least 5-10 years left and will go content to my death when it comes.


over 3 years ago, said...

Well this article describes me to a tee.I had to retire because of my health problems.I retired in 2002 after a 39 year career with Canada Post.I could not walk very good but I still could drive.At the present time I am in a nursing home and I voluntarily gave up my car because I knew I could not drive safely enough.I am Impotent but I still have my mind.I often wonder about that too.I was living alone and I would not want to put another person with me to deal with this.So yes I do worry about what my future has in store for me.I had an inguinal hernia repair which even after the 3 rd try was not successful.In 2003 I had my kidney removed resulting in an incisional hernia which has not been repaired. In 2011-2012 I had two knee replacements and they were not successful. I really do have a lot to be scared and concerned about


over 3 years ago, said...

My number 1 concern is Running Out Of Money.


over 3 years ago, said...

Should be a list of 6 with "unfulfilled dreams and goals" included.


over 3 years ago, said...

BTW, thinking about the low dose Cialis... every day pill, you're "normal" again with normal responses and it also helps heart circulation...


over 3 years ago, said...

True... Cailis feels "natural", requires more stimulation and orgasm is a bit harder to achieve. Viagra gives a "punch", sensation and orgasm is intense but the whole experience is short lived... if you aren't done in 30 mins, forgetaboutit.. you're done. Levitra... crashing headaches... can't finish they're so bad


over 3 years ago, said...

I'm 63. Good shape physically. Viagra works but the pain I experience in lower back and legs after taking it is intense. My urologist says Cialis and Levitra are longer lasting but lack that strong a punch! Anybody out there have experience with these medicines and care to comment?


almost 4 years ago, said...

What a load of old rubbish


almost 4 years ago, said...

more suggestions in Fear Fighter section


almost 4 years ago, said...

what about plain old death, no one afraid of that? You know, passing into non existence? Disappearing forever?


almost 4 years ago, said...

One MUST start preparing for retirement before it creeps up on you! If you aren't a physical fitness nut, become one...if you don't have hobbies, develop some. If you and your significant other do everything together, develop some separate interests. You will adjust better to your retirement, and live longer. I retired young (new management, and they immediately began to make life miserable for us senior management people who had been there under the old regime; I had the age and the time, and I didn't want to deal with the new goofs after they came in with their 'grand ideas' that never worked), and I don't regret it. I now have a new career teaching at a nearby college (part time), and I enjoy it for the most part. I travel a lot more too. Life after a 28 year commitment to a job that asked for more than it gave back is very good. And who knows, I might return to the workforce full time, but it would have to be a good fit; If management looks anything like the old place, I wouldn't stay there for a minute!


almost 4 years ago, said...

I should have said I can't say that I like getting old...I am REALLY enjoying life right now (knock on wood).


almost 4 years ago, said...

Can't say that I'm enjoying old age (I'm 60), but I can say that I never really defined myself by my job. I taught high school English/Creative Writing/Journalism/Film Studies for 32 years and coached various sports for 13 years. While certainly I took pride in doing my job and worked very hard at it, it just never defined who I was. I have written, played and recorded music, written a book, painted, made collages, coached Little League/rec league, raised children and grandchildren, been a husband, and so many other things that in the end meant more to me and better "defined" me than my job as a teacher/coach. Although I ended up working as a substitute teacher another couple years, I never for a moment missed my job...as much as I loved doing it...once I walked away from it.


almost 4 years ago, said...

At birth were given a deck of cards,with our DNA on,it pretty much spells out what will happen too us in life,excise and a good diet will help offset some of the bad DNA,but only a little.You can take a pygmy out of Africa and send him to Ohio,USA with our better diet,he will be about 2 inches taller than the average pygmy back in his home country. After generations of Ohio pygmy's,I'm betting that changes within the DNA start to happen,{evolution} and hey who knows but just maybe in thousands of years,you might have 6 foot Ohio pygmy's running around..


almost 4 years ago, said...

I'm 51, retired Army, divorced and a mutual caregiver with my Mom for my Dad (both in their late 70's); who has Dementia stage III. Life couldn't be better! I graduated from college this month. I rented out my house and moved in with them. I change my Dads pissy shitty, diapers and pants every day. I wash him, brush his teeth, name it-I've done it. Have had three great girlfriends in the past 2 years and in love again. In the service I saw enough dead bodies that every living one is beautiful. Viagra, been there, balding- I wish-haircuts are cost too much, cancer-survived that, knee surgery, shoulder surgery and PTSD. I bicycled 20+ miles this morning before 9am. It rained today, but the sky is blue somewhere and if I get 5 hours sleep I'm a hyperactive kid with a Tonka truck in the sandbox. My problem, America is self-absorbed, a lack of self-less service, cougars in big SUVs need bigger and better batteries and we all need to realize that a global economy is nothing but not being the world's superpower anymore. The catholic church needs to let priests get married and the Vatican should be less greedy. ENJOY I am.