The American Age Wave Can Shape a New Vision for Successful Aging in the 21st Century
Dychtwald, Ken, Aging Today
The first baby boomer turned age 65 on January 1, 201 1. Because of their massive numbers, when baby boomers reach any stage of life, their issues - whether financial, interpersonal or physical - become the dominant social, political and marketplace themes of that time.
While the group's size consistentìy benefits those selling them products and services, it is often a disadvantage to individual baby boomers and to the social institutions responsible for their well-being. Their numbers have created fierce competition for everything they've wanted: school space, team and club memberships, college entrance vacancies and homes and careers. At each stage, they've had to fight their way through the demographic bottleneck created by their own numbers.
Just as society's institutions were grossly underprepared for the baby boom, we have done far too little to'prepare for the coming "age wave." Millions of new nursing home beds will not appear overnight. Teacher shortages were patched over in the 1950s by occasionally pressing bright high school graduates into service, but it takes far longer to produce a neurosurgeon or an oncologist. As a result of the unprecedented demographic changes underway, a variety of aging-related societal crises could shake the foundation of our nation and ratde all aspects of our lives.
Based on more than 35 years of study, experience, dialogue and analysis, I've concluded there are five aging-related challenges - that, if taken up and acted upon now, can prevent social crises toward which the baby boomers are heading.
CHALLENGE #1; RECALIBRATE THE OBSOLETE MARKERS OF AGING
Aging baby boomers will not only live longer than previous cohorts, they'll grow "old" much later. When Germany's Otto Von Bismarck picked age 65 to be the marker of old age in the 1 880s, the average life expectancy was age 45. On the day Social Security began, the average American could expect to live 63 years. During the 20th century, the average life expectancy vaulted upward to 78 years - and it's still climbing.
If life expectancies continue to elevate, without ongoing adjustments in the age of eligibility for "old age" entitlements, every intergenerational financing program, including employee pensions, Social Security and Medicare, could place untenable burdens on working generations, or could ultimately collapse. I propose the following solutions:
* Encourage people to retire when they are ready, and when they can afford to. Remove all economic and legal disincentives for older adults who wish to keep working.
* Replace our linear life paradigm with a new cyclical one that takes maturity into account as a time of new life pursuits and interests, and supports late blooming with educational and career redirection assistance.
* Unhinge old age from the anachronistic marker of age 65, and calibrate entitlements to rising longevity.
CHALLENGE #2: FOSTER HEALTHY AGING
While we have eliminated many childhood diseases, our healthcare system is woefully inept at preventing or treating chronic health problems that arise in life's later years.
Without a dramatic shift in scientific priorities and healthcare skills toward fostering healthy aging, our society could be crushed by debilitating and costly pandemics of chronic disease. I propose the following solutions:
* Commit far greater resources to the scientific research required to delay or eliminate the horrific diseases of aging - with particular attention to Alzheimer's disease.
* Establish and enforce standards of geriatric competency, and provide the academic training and continuing education necessary to ensure that all healthcare professionals are competent at caring for the complicated needs of the coming age wave.
* Establish a more humane, moral and respectful approach to late-life palliative care and the dying process.
CHALLENGE #3: SOUND A FINANCIAL WAKE-UP CALL
Approximately one third of baby boomers earn attractive salaries, have invested wisely and will benefit from their share of the more than $10 trillion in inheritances their parents will leave behind. Another third will, in all likelihood, be forced to extend their work lives at least five years before they might enjoy a satisfactory retirement. The remaining third - a group disproportionately minority and female - have accumulated high levels of debt, have virtually no savings, no investments, no pensions and likely will receive no inheritance. Today, these 25 million baby boomers have average household net assets of less than $1,000.
If those live-for-today baby boomers don't hear the wake-up call and save far more aggressively for tomorrow, they will find themselves struggling with poverty in old age, stalling the consumer marketplace and placing crushing burdens on America's economy and the generations forced to support them. I propose the following solutions:
* Turbo-charge lifetime financial literacy and financial responsibility through a multidimensional national education campaign, and institute financial planning curricula in high schools.
* Increase personal savings rates, possibly through mandated, tax-advantaged savings programs.
* Test and target entitlements to match the diverse needs of tomorrow's elders - while providing even greater benefits for low-income elders.
CHALLENGE #4: CREATE A NEW PURPOSE FOR MATURITY
Although medical science has focused on how to prolong life, we have not yet created a compelling vision for what tens of millions of long-lived men and women might do with those additional years. Right now, more than 40 million retirees spend an average of 48 hours a week watching television, and of all population age groups, elders have the lowest rate of volunteerism.
Without envisioning a newer valuable purpose for old age, we could be creating an elder wasteland and setting the stage for age wars in which the needs of the young are pitted against the power - and burden - of the old. I propose the following solutions:
* Envision and enact a new purpose for elderhood that emphasizes the contributions of wisdom, generativity and mature leadership.
* Forge a multigenerational melting pot by stimulating a wide range of intergenerational programs and activities in communities nationwide.
* Create and mobilize a powerful "elder corps" in which older adults are recruited to share their values, knowledge and skills with youth in need.
CHALLENGE #5: NEW VISIONARY LEADERSHIP IS REQUIRED
The fields of aging and gerontology have done a masterful and heartfelt job of guiding our nation and our world through 20th century aging. Now, we must navigate unprecedented challenges and find solutions to 21stcentury aging.
Unless a new cohort of bold and visionary leaders emerges from within the aging and gerontology fields, key opportunities will be missed, looming problems won't be averted, new solutions won't be proposed and the aging of America could become a social and financial tragedy for millions of families. I propose the following solutions:
* Create a brain trust for successful aging in the 21st century. This would be composed of a diverse mix of experts, visionaries and leaders in the aging field. The brain trust would establish both a new, broad-based national agenda as well as a blueprint - with sector specifics - for change.
* Influence the influencers by launching a high-impact national education initiative to guide leaders in politics, business, healthcare, social service, housing, media and other key sectors about the challenges and opportunities of the coming age wave, and what roles they can play to foster positive outcomes.
* Enact a leadership succession plan so that young men and women are recruited, trained and mentored to become tomorrow's leaders in the field of aging.
A New Vision for 21st Century Aging: Critical Course Corrections Needed for Successful Aging
April 27, 10 a.m. to 11 a.m.
Is America prepared for the coming age wave? In this mind-expanding presentation, gerontologist Ken Dychtwald, president and CEO of Age Wave, will explore the problems that the age wave brings, and their five interlocking solutions.
Our society's institutions were grossly underprepared for the baby boom - and now we are ill-prepared for the coming 'age wave.'
We need a leadership succession plan to recruit, train and mentor tomorrows leaders in the field of aging.
Ken Dychtwald, president and CEO of San Francisco-based Age Wave (www.agewave.comj, is a psychologist, gerontologist, documentary filmmaker, entrepreneur and author of 16 books on aging-related issues, including his latest (with Daniel Kadlec), A New Purpose: Redefining Money, Family, Work, Retirement, and Success (New York, Harper, 2010).…
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: The American Age Wave Can Shape a New Vision for Successful Aging in the 21st Century. Contributors: Dychtwald, Ken - Author. Magazine title: Aging Today. Volume: 32. Issue: 1 Publication date: January/February 2011. Page number: 3+. © American Society on Aging Jan/Feb 2009. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.