In this video by Vital Pictures, entitled “The Big Idea in 4 Minutes,” the PBS funded Aging in America Project considers how a permanent shift in how long humans are living could significantly change the way we define our standard life course and how we organize society.
“The Baby Boomers are an introduction to what will be a permanent shift,” says author and urban planner Scott Ball*. Never before in human history have so many people lived so long. Research shows that if a person reaches the age of 65, chances are good he or she will live another 15 to 20 years. And it isn’t just Baby Boomers who will live longer. Generations X and Y and the Millennials are also on track to live longer than their predecessors.
An excellent example of how we will need to shift our thinking is that many people just naturally consider the age of 65 as the ideal retirement age. When Social Security was enacted in 1935, the average life expectancy was 62 years, three years short of retirement age. With more people living to and beyond the age of 85, we have a lot to rethink when it comes to how we arrange our lives, our views on aging, and the provision of aging care services. We also will have some important questions to answer. For example, does it still make sense today for people to stop working at age 65 when they might live another 20+ years?
“There isn’t anything in the psychology literature that suggests that it’s good for people to go on vacation for decades,” says psychologist and director of the Stanford Center on Longevity, Laura Carstensen. The screen grab below, from the Vital Pictures video, illustrates our historical view of life stages. Yet research suggests that lack of purpose and activity can contribute to poor health outcomes as we age, which results in a heavier burden on the healthcare system and those caring for older adults.
Most components of our current societal infrastructure, such as Social Security, Medicare, economies, policies, institutions, communities, etc. are designed for a life course that is much different than it was in 1935, 1950, or even 1970. It’s a brand new world out there today – an older one. Time to make it a wiser one too.
One organization trying to do just that is the Cantata Best Life Foundation, launched in early 2014 and whose primary mission it is to investigate, redefine and power “Best Life” in later life. Cantata is currently hosting a series of “Jam Sessions” where people of varied age groups are invited to sit in, explore, compose and improvise new ideas about aging and aging care services. They will then use the information gathered to build a base of valuable knowledge that can help lead the way in forming a new vision of life beyond age 55. Results of their latest Jam Session, with young professionals in the Chicago Metropolitan area, can be viewed on the Jam Sessions page of their website. Jammers were asked to imagine themselves as being 20 years older and answer the question, “What needs to change to help you navigate your wants and needs in your community as a citizen who is 50 years plus?” The answers provided are extremely insightful, and a great start toward the change that needs to occur.
One thing is for sure, there are a lot of interesting challenges ahead in the industry and loads of opportunities for innovation and change. At corecubed, we employ the latest digital media strategies combined with traditional, time-tested marketing tactics to promote the services of aging care providers and businesses who serve the aging care industry. For more information about our services, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
*Scott authored the book “Livable Communities for Aging Populations: Urban Design for Longevity”, published by John Wiley & Sons in 2012.