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On Turning 61: Aging, Health & Vitality As An Older Black Woman

My father died 30 years ago, the day after his 61st birthday. I was 31.

I have spent the past 20 years under a gloom, vaguely expecting to die by the age of 61. Ignoring the science, my trepidation increased as I approached 50 and realised I only had 11 years left. While I inherited my father’s statuesque frame, I had naturally low blood pressure and no history of the heart disease which finally caused Dad’s sudden death on 26th January 1991. Facing my fear squarely in my early 50s, I needed support to abandon it.

On turning 61 I exhaled and decided to reflect on aging. Does medical science identify some of the factors which predispose us – as women in general and particularly women of African Caribbean origin – to ill health? How do we fight back? I also wanted to listen to what older women had to say.

I spoke with Dr Janice Chang, a former PAHO/WHO Advisor in Jamaica and Medical Officer of Health in Bermuda (2014-2019) who is currently based in Michigan, USA. She maintains a keen interest in Global Public Health issues, including the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on people of colour.

“Diseases affecting women have shifted in the 40s to 60s to chronic diseases in the 90s onwards. So the major causes are now cardiovascular and cancers,” Dr Chang says, noting that women face physical and emotional changes as we age. Dr Chang also cited the increase in dementia and senility as we age.