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Seniors out West are young at heart

If the saying "you're only as old as you think you are" is true, Utahns and Westerners from here to Hawaii are a pretty youthful bunch.

People 65 and older in 13 Western states have the highest concentrations of older adults who don't think of themselves as old, according to a study released Friday by the Pew Research Center.

Westerners are as old and as prone to most of the age-onset chronic illnesses, but they say they feel a little younger than Americans in the Northeast and the South, and a lot younger — by 20 years — than seniors in the Midwest.

Fay Andrews, who just celebrated her 70th birthday by jumping out of an airplane, said she really doesn't think about her age all that much. And her "buddies" her age don't dwell on it, either, she said.

"I hear people all the time talking about how fast time flies and how they can't believe how old they are," Andrews said. "If you're thinking like that, you are stuck. Really, the more active you get, the more active you want be."

Attitude is everything to seniors such as Andrews, who two summers ago was in intensive care being treated for the West Nile virus.

"There are always plenty of reasons not to do something," she said, "and there are all kinds of ways to stay safe on the ground. But life is risky. Just getting in a car you take your life in your hands."

Westerners reported that they not only feel younger, but they're happier. They tend to have closer friends and deeper ties to their neighborhoods and larger communities through volunteering and church activities.

A surprising contraction in the happiness factor among senior Westerners, according to the survey, is distance from their children.

Up to 60 percent of the older residents of the Northeast, Midwest and South say they are in touch with a son or daughter every day, either in person or by phone. For folks out here, only about four in 10 — or 41 percent — are in touch with a son or daughter on a regular basis.

The survey authors say that doesn't necessarily mean they aren't satisfied with the relationship with their offspring, rather that Western seniors are from the ruggedly independent stock who settled the West and their posterity in this age are far less likely to reside in an age-restricted senior center.

e-mail: jthalman@desnews.com