TIME Aging

Famed Scientist Oliver Sacks Reveals He Has Terminal Cancer in Soulful Op-Ed

The Music Has Power Awards Benefit
Brad Barket—Getty Images Dr. Oliver Sacks speaks at the Music Has Power Awards Benefit in the Allen Room at the Frederick P. Rose Hall, Home of Jazz at Lincoln Center on Nov. 6, 2006 in New York City.

The neurologist and author writes in the New York Times that he feels "intensely alive" in the face of death

Oliver Sacks, one of the leading public intellectuals of the last half-century, says terminal cancer of the liver has left him with only months to live.

Sacks, a neurologist and author of books like Awakenings and The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat, revealed his condition in an article about facing death that was published in the New York Times on Thursday.

“It is up to me now to choose how to live out the months that remain to me,” Sacks, 81, writes in the Times. “I have to live in the richest, deepest, most productive way I can.”

He says he will shun politics and nightly news to focus instead on himself, his friends, and his work–an autobiography is set to come out in the spring, and he says he has “several” other books in the works. He writes:

This is not indifference but detachment — I still care deeply about the Middle East, about global warming, about growing inequality, but these are no longer my business; they belong to the future. I rejoice when I meet gifted young people — even the one who biopsied and diagnosed my metastases. I feel the future is in good hands.

I have been increasingly conscious, for the last 10 years or so, of deaths among my contemporaries. My generation is on the way out, and each death I have felt as an abruption, a tearing away of part of myself. There will be no one like us when we are gone, but then there is no one like anyone else, ever. When people die, they cannot be replaced. They leave holes that cannot be filled, for it is the fate — the genetic and neural fate — of every human being to be a unique individual, to find his own path, to live his own life, to die his own death.

Born in the U.K., Sacks has spent most of his career in the United States, where his prolific writing has blended science and literature to best-selling success. Outside of work, he’s been nearly as active. A one-time weightlifting champion with a stint riding with Hell’s Angel’s—according to a 1995 profile in TIME—he says he still swims a mile a day.

The removal of a tumor in his eye left him blind in one eye nine years ago and led to his 2010 book ‘The Mind’s Eye’ that deals in part with his experience with cancer and his inability to recognize faces. But the tumor metastasized, and the author now says the cancer’s spread cannot be stopped.

“I feel intensely alive, and I want and hope in the time that remains to deepen my friendships, to say farewell to those I love, to write more, to travel if I have the strength, to achieve new levels of understanding and insight,” he writes.

Read Oliver Sacks’s story in the New York Times.

Read next: The Secret of Abraham Lincoln’s Success as a Writer?

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

MONEY Lifestyle

The Most Surprising Thing That Will Make You Happy in Retirement

FIFTY SHADES OF GREY, l-r: Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan, 2015.
Chuck Zlotnick—Focus Features/courtesy Everett Collection

While financial security is important, a little sex goes a long way toward increasing happiness in retirement.

Most retirees probably aren’t as “frisky,” shall we say, as Christian Grey in the new film Fifty Shades of Grey. But new research shows that many people well into their 70s and 80s still have active sex lives, some engaging in sex at least twice a month. Tame perhaps, by Mr. Christian’s standards. But more than enough to make for a happier retirement.

We all know that diligent financial planning can lead to a more satisfying post-career life. But while money is important to retirees—especially guaranteed income they know they won’t outlive—financial security alone doesn’t assure well-being in retirement. A number of non-financial factors may also be able to increase your chances of having a more meaningful and joyful retirement, including having more sex.

A paper published last year in the Journals of Gerontology found that older married couples who had sex more frequently had higher levels of marital happiness than couples who had sex less often or had no sex at all. Which wasn’t exactly a revelation, since an earlier study (“Sex and Older Americans: Exploring the Relationship Between Frequency of Sexual Activity and Happiness”) that focused on people 65 and older, both single and married, also showed a relationship between happiness and frequency of sex, even after adjusting for health and finances.

To get this boost in happiness, the sex didn’t have to be the push-the-envelope variety portrayed in the Fifty Shades movie. Indeed, both studies set the parameters of sexual activity pretty broadly, with the Journals of Gerontology research defining sex as any activity with a partner that was sexually arousing.

But frequency does matter. In the Sex and Older Americans study, for example, only 32% of those who said they’d experienced no sexual activity during the prior 12 months felt very happy with life overall. By contrast, almost 38% who had sex at least once or twice over the previous 12 months reported that they were very happy, while more than half who had engaged in sex more than once a month reported being very happy.

I’m not suggesting that anyone should base their sex habits on these or any other studies. For one thing, it’s possible that frequency of sex isn’t what’s driving happiness. It could be the other way around. Happier people may just have more sex. Besides, how often one has sex or whether one chooses to have it at all is a highly personal matter, and thus a decision each person has to make based on his or her particular circumstances.

That said, intimacy and sex are an integral part of life. So it only makes sense for retirees to consider whether their current sex habits are contributing to a more meaningful and fulfilling life—and if not, whether this is an issue that deserves more attention.

Of course, there are plenty of other lifestyle moves that also have the potential to increase your sense of well-being in retirement. Research shows that people who cultivate a circle of friends they can rely on for companionship and support tend to be happier than those who have fewer ties with friends or family members. Similarly, staying active through occasional work or volunteering can make for a more satisfying retirement, as long as you don’t go too far and effectively turn an avocation into a job. And people who attend religious services also tend to be happier than those who don’t.

So as you’re mapping out your post-career life, by all means give financial issues all the attention they deserve. Make sure you’re saving enough, that you’re investing wisely and have a coherent retirement income plan. But do some retirement lifestyle planning as well, and make your sex life a part of it. As to how big a part, well, that’s entirely up to you.

Walter Updegrave is the editor of RealDealRetirement.com. If you have a question on retirement or investing that you would like Walter to answer online, send it to him at walter@realdealretirement.com.

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TIME Research

Most Women Experience Hot Flashes for Over 7 Years, Study Finds

Symptoms of the menopause last longer than previously thought

Hot flashes, night sweats and other symptoms of menopause typically affect women much longer than previously thought, a median of 7.4 years, according to a new study.

The study, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, looked at a group of nearly 1,500 women with frequent symptoms of the onset of menopause and found significant variations in duration of menopausal vasomotor symptoms (VMS) between ethnic groups.

African-American women experience symptoms for a median of 10.1 years, more than any other ethnic group. On average, Chinese and Japanese women experienced the symptoms for the shortest duration—5.4 and 4.8 years, respectively.

Women who experienced hot flashes and night sweats at a younger age tended to have them last longer, the study found, as did women with less education and greater levels of stress.

Read More: Do Married People Really Live Longer?

“These findings can help health care professionals counsel patients about expectations regarding VMS and assist women in making treatment decisions based on the probability of their VMS persisting,” said the study, which notes that 80% of women experience such symptoms.

The study challenges the long-held notion that these experiences “minimally affect women’s health or quality of life and can be readily addressed by short-term approaches,” according to a commentary that accompanies the study.

MONEY Aging

Pop Goes the Age Discrimination Bubble

senior man blowing bubble out of gum
Getty Images

Age discrimination charges have returned to pre-recession levels—another sign we're getting back to normal

The popular narrative holds that age discrimination is off the charts and employers can’t shed workers past 50 quickly enough. Yet age-related complaints filed with the federal government fell for the sixth consecutive year in 2014, and the percentage of cases found to be reasonable have been trending lower for two decades.

Certainly, there remains cause for concern. The 20,588 charges filed under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act are higher than in any year before the recession. But the number is down from 21,396 in 2013 and from a peak of 24,582 in 2008, according to new data from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Meanwhile, the EEOC found reasonable cause in only 2.7% of the cases filed. That is up from 2.4% in 2013 but otherwise the lowest rate since at least 1997. Monetary awards hit a five-year low of $78 million.

Just about everyone past 50 knows someone who believes they were discriminated against in the workplace because of their age. In a 2012 survey, AARP found that 77% of Americans between 45 and 54 said employees face age discrimination. Clearly, in many cases older workers command higher wages. Organizations can cut costs and make room for younger workers by moving older workers out—even though doing so on the basis of age is against the law.

This helps explain the rise in age discrimination charges during and since the recession, when companies undertook vast reorganizations and laid off millions of workers to cut costs and adjust to the slow economy. Older workers who lost their job have had a difficult time finding employment, further driving them to seek relief wherever possible.

Now age-related charges in the workplace are roughly at pre-recession levels. Charges ranged between 16,008 and 19,124 from 2000 through 2007. Returning to near this level is the latest sign—along with more jobs and rising wages—that the economy is getting back to normal.

Age discrimination is a serious issue. It is more difficult to prove than discrimination based on race, sex, religion, or disability. It also takes a heavier toll than other forms of discrimination on the health of victims, research shows. Boomers who want to stay at work typically need the income or the health insurance that comes with full-time employment. Turning them away places a greater burden on public resources.

Meanwhile, older workers have a lot to offer, including institutional knowledge, experience, and reliability. Some forward-thinking organizations including the National Institutes of Health, Stanley Consultants, and Michelin North America, among many others, embrace a seasoned workforce and have programs designed to attract and keep workers past 50.

None of this is to say age discrimination is no longer a problem. One alarming aspect of the EEOC state data is that warm climates popular with older people have a high rate of age-discrimination complaints. No state had a higher percentage of EEOC age-related complaints last year than Texas (9.2%). Florida had 8.5% of all cases and Arizona had 3%.

Federal officials note that the government shutdown last year contributed to a falloff in cases filed. So official complaints may be understated last year. And an overwhelming number of age-related sleights at the office never get reported. Still, the bubble in recession-related age discrimination cases appears to have been popped. That’s a start.

TIME beauty

Unretouched Photo of Cindy Crawford Leaks Online

An apparent image of the supermodel in lingerie is generating a lot of online discussion about what “real” women look like

An unretouched photo of 48-year-old supermodel Cindy Crawford has leaked online, reigniting the social-media debate about photoshopping women’s bodies.

The photo, which was initially attributed to an upcoming issue of Marie Claire, is actually a leak from a 2013 cover story of Marie Claire Mexico and Latin America. “No matter where the photo came from, it’s an enlightenment,” Marie Claire writers wrote in a web post about the leaked photo. “We’ve always known Crawford was beautiful, but seeing her like this only makes us love her more.”

Social-media commentators are rallying around the leaked photo as a way to celebrate natural aging.

Crawford has not yet made any public statement about the leaked photo, but she did share some thoughts on aging gracefully. “I really think — at any age — it’s learning to be comfortable in your own skin,” she told Marie Claire at the premiere of her new documentary, Hospital in the Sky. “For me, that’s doing the kind of work I like, being in a good relationship, being the kind of mother I want to be — and taking care of myself.”

MONEY Social Security

Why We Make Irrational Decisions About Social Security Benefits

piggy bank and hourglass
iStock

Everyone tends to over-weigh a sure gain compared with a slightly riskier gain, even if the expected value of the certain gain is lower.

Financial professionals often recommend that you wait until full retirement or even later before applying for social security benefits. An individual who’d receive $1,000 per month at full retirement age would get a mere $750 by claiming early at age 62. And that same person could get as much as $1,320 per month by waiting until age 70. For many Americans, it appears to make a lot of sense to wait.

As a general rule of thumb, if you expect to live beyond your late 70s, waiting until at least full retirement might be the smart choice. According to the Social Security Administration, a man reaching 65 today can expect to live until 84.3. And a woman turning 65 can expect to live until age 86.6. Given that one out of every four 65-year olds today lives past age 90, you’d assume that most folks would hang on until full retirement before applying for benefits.

That assumption would be wrong, however. In practice, many Americans seem to be ignoring the data. According to The New York Times, 41% of men and 46% of women choose to take their benefits at 62 — the earliest age possible. Why aren’t they listening to the experts?

Your Social Security and your brain

Obviously, there are some very rational reasons for claiming your benefits at 62. For example, you might have some serious health concerns. Or you may just really need the money. Sometimes real life is more complicated than insurance data and actuarial tables.

There might be another powerful reason that people aren’t even aware of, however. According to psychological research, we are all hardwired to lock in certain gains, even if such a decision has a lower expected value. In other words, our psychology could be leading us to make suboptimal financial choices when it comes to social security.

The price of certainty

The underlying principle involved here, which was highlighted in the work of Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, is called the “certainty effect.” This idea is actually quite easy to understand. Essentially, everyone tends to over-weigh a sure gain compared with a slightly riskier gain, even if the expected value of the certain gain is lower.

Here’s an illustration of how it works. Suppose there are two options. Option 1 gives you a chance to win $9,500 with 100% certainty. Option 2, on the other hand, provides you with the opportunity to win $10,000 with 97% certainty, though there’s a 3% chance you will win nothing.

Even though the expected value of Option 2 is higher ($9,700 compared to $9,500), the “certainty effect” would predict that more individuals would choose Option 1 than Option 2. According to Kahneman:

People are averse to risk when they consider prospects with a substantial chance to achieve a large gain. They are willing to accept less than the expected value of a gamble to lock in a sure gain.

A team of academics recently tested this theory, and reported their findings in a paper titled “Risk preferences and aging: The ‘Certainty Effect’ in older adults’ decision making“. They discovered that “older adults were more likely than younger adults to select the sure-thing option when it was available — even if it had a lower expect value.” In other words, they not only found evidence supporting the “certainty effect,” they found that older adults were moresusceptible to it than younger ones. The overall conclusion of the study is very instructive:

… [W]hen it comes to the important decision whether to claim social security benefits at the earliest retirement age (i.e., 62 years old) and receive a sure but lower-dollar payout (i.e., up to 20% less) versus a higher-dollar payout a few years later at full (between 65–67 years old) or after full retirement age (at 70 years age at the latest, with a benefit increase between 4% and 8% for each year after full retirement age until age 70) at the risk of not being alive, older adults might sub-optimally go for the sure payout at the earliest possible age rather than delaying their retirement benefits; thus, permanently reducing their benefits.

Clearly, our instincts can inadvertently lead us astray on financial matters. As Jason Zweig notes in his classic book Your Money and Your Brain, “[I]nvestors habitually are their own worst enemies, even when they know better.” When deciding when to apply for social security benefits, it might be wise to remember how our brains are wired. Otherwise, you could be leaving a lot of money on the table.

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TIME health

What Longevity Looked Like in the 1950s

These men were the role models for vintage vigor

The question of how to live a long life is not a new one — and, as TIME explores in the new issue, the answer is constantly evolving.

When the magazine took a look at longevity in 1958, the story (featuring coverboy Amos Alonzo Stagg, a 96-year-old football coach) investigated the latest medical news of the decade, the changing demographics of the nation and the wisdom those extraordinary people had to offer the rest of us young’uns. While the science wasn’t as clear as it is today, there was no shortage of role models. A four-page photo essay shot by Alfred Eisenstaedt featured some of the nation’s most notable elderly men; nine of them are featured here, with the original captions, including their ages at the time.

Read the full 1958 longevity issue here, in the TIME Vault: Growing Old Usefully

Read the new longevity issue here, on Time.com: The New Age of Much Older Age

MONEY Aging

Are You Mentally Fit Enough to Plan for Retirement?

Book with money in it
iStock

People's ability to make sound financial decisions declines with age—even as their confidence about it doesn't.

In this era of “self-directed” retirement (no pensions, you make all the investment choices) postponing making a real plan poses a particular risk to future security. Not only are the logistics of planning hard enough—when to collect Social Security, how to budget for expenses, what to do with savings—but the decline in cognition that accompanies normal aging has a measurable negative impact on the ability to make sound financial decisions.

In 2010, researchers at the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College tested the financial literacy of a group of older people in the Chicago area by asking them questions such as the relationship between bond prices and interest rates, the value of paying off credit card debt, and the historical differences between stock and bond returns. They then retested the group every year and found that, among some participants, even while their knowledge of personal finance and investing was eroding, they remained just as confident about managing “day to day financial matters.” And perhaps because they remained so confident, more than half of them retained primary responsibility for handling their finances as their ability to do so was becoming increasingly compromised. (Other studies have shown that financial literacy scores decline by about 1 percentage point a year after age 60. )

One particular area of concern, and one that is often overlooked when discussing the future income of retirees, is the level of debt that older Americans are taking on near or at retirement. Debt later in life is problematic for obvious reasons: Payments can strain your income at a point where active earning years are ending; debt offsets asset accumulation, which you may be forced to reduce in order to service the debt; and finally, leveraging large housing debt in particular may leave older Americans with less resources to finance an adequate retirement.

Recent data from the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI) shows that the percentage of American families with heads ages 55 or older that had debt increased from 63.2% in 2010 to 65.4% in 2013, with housing debt as the major component. Moreover, the percentage of families with debt payments greater than 40% of their income also increased, from 8.5% in 2010 to 9.2% in 2013.

Just because you have debt does not in and of itself mean you’re in financial danger. Nor does growing older automatically throw you into the kind of cognitive decline that could seriously impair your financial decision-making. But now that individuals are fully responsible for their own retirement security, part of that responsibility must certainly include the possibility that time may leave you less rather than more equipped to make the right decisions. As the saying goes: hope for the best but plan for the worst.

Konigsberg is the author of The Truth About Grief, a contributor to the anthology Money Changes Everything, and a director at Arden Asset Management. The views expressed are solely her own.

MONEY Second Career

Why You’ll Be Able to Work Longer Than You Think

150206_RET_WorkLonger_1
Klaus Tiedg/Getty Images/Blend Images

Innovations in technology, medicine and workplace design will allow more boomers to work well into retirement.

As I go around the country talking to people about my book Unretirement and its thesis (that today, retirement often includes part-time work, often with a purpose), I frequently hear people say: “I don’t think I’ll be able to work in retirement.”

They’d like to stay employed, they say, but that’s an unrealistic expectation considering the accumulated ravages of time and increased infirmities. I think that, in many cases, they’re being pessimistic.

Medical advancements (including ones we’ve yet to see) and workplace-design innovations at growing numbers of employers are making it easier to work into your 60s and 70s, albeit not for everyone.

Boomers Coping With Maladies at Work

Now, I’m no Pollyanna about aging. To be sure, getting up from my office chair is a slow maneuver these days, typically accompanied by a groan or two (maybe three). My knees were never good, but it takes longer for them to recover after a business flight. And I realize that plenty of leading-edge boomers are coping with some combination of maladies on the job—fading eyesight and hearing, maybe a limp, a bad back, arthritic hands.

That said, the assumption of widespread work-denying disability is greatly exaggerated. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 76% of people 65 and over rated their health as good, very good, or excellent. What’s more, the disability rate for people 65 and over dropped from 35% in 1992 to 29% in 2009, notes Steven Wallace, professor at the UCLA School for Public Health.

At the workplace, smart design, technological advances and organizational accommodation have done quite a bit to address physical issues faced by older workers.

Reconfiguring the Office Computer

John Smith, 55, appreciates how technology has helped him stay employed. Born with cerebral palsy, Smith works part-time evaluating websites and education programs for the Institute on Community Integration at the University of Minnesota, whose mission is bringing people with all kinds of disabilities into the community.

Smith worked there full-time before his life-changing accident a decade ago, when he fell and badly injured his spinal cord; he’s now confined to a wheelchair. His employer lets him use a trackball rather than a mouse to navigate his computer and the computer has software features built into Microsoft Windows that take into account his difficulties with the keyboard. Smith’s power wheelchair lets him raise his seat to be almost on eye-level when speaking to someone standing up.

“I have no doubt that technology is going to keep getting better and will allow me to increase my productivity for many years to come,” says Smith.

“One of the last bastions of widespread discrimination is the belief that to be disabled means being unable to work,” says Marca Bristo, 62, President and Chief Executive Officer of Access Living, a Chicago-based nonprofit that provides housing, in-home assistance, advocacy and other services for the disabled. In 1977, she broke her neck diving into Lake Michigan and became paralyzed from the chest down. “Most people can work, even those with severe disabilities,” she says.

Case in point: Kate Williams, 72, program manager for employment immersion at the Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired in San Francisco. Though blind due to a rare degenerative disorder, Williams trains and mentors people for jobs in finance, industry, government, nonprofits and other sectors of the economy. Adaptive technologies like Braille-enabled computers and voice recognition software (think Siri) help Willliams’ clients in many tasks.

“I think there is a job for everyone,” she says. “You just have to go after it.” Williams was awarded a 2014 Purpose Prize by the social venture Encore.org.

Hip Surgeries and Driverless Cars

The march of technology is making the formerly impossible now possible for many older workers. Advances in hip and knee replacement surgery already let them remain productive and active. (The idea for this column came from walking through the skyway with a colleague who casually mentioned that he had both his hips replaced. I never knew.)

David Lindeman, Director of the Center for Technology and Aging at the University of California, Berkeley, believes the coming-soon driverless car will have a dramatic impact on how people think about disabilities and prospects for employment. “For everyone with mobility limitations it will be a game changer,” he says.

Unretirement skeptics shouldn’t underestimate the power of good design—specifically “universal design”—for stretching out work lives, too. The universal design movement takes into account aging in the office with specially-created, utilitarian and aesthetically pleasing door handles, lighting and work surface heights.

The approach is an integral part of the corporate campus of office design and furniture maker Herman Miller in Zeeland, Mich. There, the doors have levers rather than knobs, because levers are are easier on aging hands. Desk drawers have easy-grip pulls.

Here’s the thing: Smart ergonomics isn’t just useful for older or disabled workers. “Whether it is chronic aging or acute injury, whatever we do to accommodate those particular situations, they’re going to be useful for everyone,” says Gretchen Gscheidle, director of insight and exploration at Herman Miller.

Will Employers Meet the Challenge?

Of course, technology and smart design only succeed at extending work lives if organizations embrace them. Companies like Walgreen, AMC and Hershey stand out for their concerted efforts to recruit workers with disabilities.

One question other employers need to answer: Will they hire and hang onto employees like Smith, Williams and Bristo?

Bristo sometimes gets frustrated at the slow pace of change. Her husband reminds her during those moments: “Just wait until the baby boomers get older.” That’s when change will speed up, he tells her, as employers realize they need the skill and experience of their older workers.

Yes, some older workers deal with more disabilities than others. That doesn’t mean they should be excluded from Unretirement—far from it.

Chris Farrell is senior economics contributor for American Public Media’s Marketplace and author of the new book Unretirement: How Baby Boomers Are Changing the Way We Think About Work, Community, and The Good Life. He writes twice a month about the personal finance and entrepreneurial start-up implications of Unretirement, and the lessons people learn as they search for meaning and income. Send your queries to him at cfarrell@mpr.org or @cfarrellecon on Twitter.

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Elizabeth Renstrom for TIME

Money may mean the most in midlife

Can money buy you happiness? It might depend on your stage of life, finds a new study in the journal Psychology and Aging. The link between life satisfaction and income is strongest in 30-50 year-olds, while it’s only weakly correlated in older people and young adults, the study shows.

Researchers looked at life satisfaction survey data from more than 40,000 people in Germany, the United Kingdom and Switzerland, taken over the course of many years. The results were consistent in all three regions.

People in the middle of their lives likely value income because of increased financial responsibilities, including the need to support a family, the study authors say. Young adults may place less value on income because of support from their parents, and older people are more likely to have resources outside of income like retirement savings, they explain.

Other research has suggested that money doesn’t do anything to make people happy, and, if it does, its influence is fairly subtle. But this study suggests that looking at the aggregate data without teasing out different age groups won’t necessarily provide the most relevant view.

“Our findings suggest that if money does buy happiness, it does so to different degrees for different people,” the study says.

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