WASHINGTON – Baby boomers say wrinkles aren't so bad and they're not that worried about dying. Just don't call them "old."
The generation that once powered a youth movement isn't ready to symbolize the aging of America, even as its first members are becoming eligible for Medicare. A new poll finds three-quarters of all baby boomers still consider themselves middle-aged or younger, and that includes most of the boomers who are ages 57-65.
Younger adults call 60 the start of old age, but baby boomers are pushing that number back, according to the Associated Press-LifeGoesStrong.com poll. The median age they cite is 70. And a quarter of boomers insist you're not old until you're 80.
"In my 20s, I would have thought the 60s were bad, but they're not so bad at all," says 64-year-old Lynn Brown, a retired legal assistant and grandmother of 11 living near Phoenix in Apache Junction, Ariz.
The 77 million boomers are celebrating their 47th through 65th birthdays this year.
Overall, they're upbeat about their futures. Americans born in the population explosion after World War II are more likely to be excited about the positive aspects of aging, such as retirement, than worried about the negatives, like declining health. A third of those polled feel confident about growing older, almost twice as many as find it frustrating or sad. Sixteen percent report they're happy about aging, about equal to the number who say they're afraid. Most expect to live longer than their parents.
"I still think I've got years to go to do things," says Robert Bechtel, 64, of Virginia Beach, Va. He retired last year after nearly four decades as a retail manager. Now Bechtel has less stress and more time to do what he pleases, including designing a bunk bed for his grandchildren, remodeling a bathroom and teaching Sunday school.
A strong majority of baby boomers are enthusiastic about some perks of aging — watching their children or grandchildren grow up, doing more with friends and family, and getting time for favorite activities. About half say they're highly excited about retirement. Boomers most frequently offered the wisdom accumulated over their lives as the best thing about aging.
"The older you get, the smarter you get," says Glenn Farrand, 62, of Ankeny, Iowa. But, he adds, "The physical part of it is the pits."
Baby boomers most often brought up failing health or fading physical abilities when asked to name the worst thing about getting older.
Among their top worries: physical ailments that would take away their independence (deeply worrisome to 45 percent), losing their memory (44 percent), and being unable to pay medical bills (43 percent). Many also fret about running out of money (41 percent).
Only 18 percent say they worry about dying. Another 22 percent are "moderately" concerned about it. More than two-thirds expect to live to at least age 76; 1 in 6 expects to make it into the 90s.
About half predict a better quality of life for themselves than their parents experienced as they aged.
"My own parents, by the time they were 65 to 70, were very, very inactive and very much old in their minds," says Brown. So they "sat around the house and didn't go anywhere."
"I have no intentions of sitting around the house," says Brown, whose hobbies include motorcycle rides with her husband. "I'm enjoying being a senior citizen more than my parents did."
But a minority of boomers — about a fourth — worry things will be harder for them than for the previous generation.
"I think we'll have less," said Vicki Mooney, 62, of Dobbs Ferry, N.Y., who fears older people will be pinched by cuts to Social Security and Medicare and rising health care costs. "The main difference in the quality of life is wondering if we will have a safety net."
Baby boomers with higher incomes generally are more optimistic about aging than their poorer peers. Women tend to feel sunnier than men; college graduates are more positive than those without a degree.
A third of baby boomers say their health has declined in the last five years, and that group is more likely to express fear or frustration about aging. Still, most boomers rate themselves in good or even excellent health overall, with less than 1 in 10 doing poorly.
Looking older is seriously bugging just 12 percent of baby boomers. The vast majority say they wouldn't get plastic surgery. That includes Johanna Taisey, 61, of Chandler, Ariz., who says aging is "no problem at all ... it's just nature."
"Age with dignity," Taisey advises.
Among the 1 in 5 who have had or would consider cosmetic surgery, about half say they might improve their tummy or eyes. A sagging chin is the next biggest worry — nearly 40 percent would consider getting that fixed.
Only 5 percent of baby boomers say they might use the chemical Botox to temporarily smooth away wrinkles; 17 percent would consider laser treatments to fix varicose veins.
But boomers, especially women, are taking some steps to look younger. A majority of the women — 55 percent — regularly dye their hair, and they overwhelmingly say it's to cover gray. Only 5 percent of the men admit using hair color.
A quarter of the women have paid more than $25 for an anti-aging skincare product, such as a lotion or night cream. Just 5 percent of the men say they've bought skincare that expensive.
Almost all baby boomers — 90 percent — have tried to eat better. Three-quarters say they're motivated more by a desire to improve their health than their appearance. Most boomers — 57 percent — say in the past year they've taken up a regular program of exercise. About the same number do mental exercises, such as crossword puzzles or video games, to stay sharp.
Sixty-four-year-old Loretta Davis of Salem, W.Va., reads and plays games on her computer and takes walks. Diabetes and hypertension keep her focused on her diet these days. "I wish I had been more conscious of what I was eating earlier in life," said Davis, who worked in a grocery store, a factory and an ice cream shop before being disabled by polio in the 1980s.
But Davis says getting older doesn't bother her: "I'm just glad to still be here."
The AP-LifeGoesStrong.com poll was conducted from June 3-12 by Knowledge Networks of Menlo Park, Calif., and involved online interviews with 1,416 adults, including 1,078 baby boomers born between 1946 and 1964. The margin of sampling error for results from the full sample is plus or minus 4.4 percentage points; for the boomers, it is plus or minus 3.3 percentage points.
Knowledge Networks used traditional telephone and mail sampling methods to randomly recruit respondents. People selected who had no Internet access were given it free.
AP Polling Director Trevor Tompson, Deputy Polling Director Jennifer Agiesta and News Survey Specialist Dennis Junius contributed to this report.