Diving Deeper into the Future of Aging

Article excerpt

At the end of 2010, a wave of articles appeared nationwide in newspapers and magazines with the news that the oldest baby boomers were about to turn 65.

This could hardly be classified as "new" news. One remarkable aspect of the baby boom is how quickly it was recognized: in 1948, a Newsweek cover story appeared, "Boom in Babies: What it Means to America." Since then, it has been a matter of simple arithmetic to predict when future landmarks would be reached.

The press has done a good job noting the emergence of and then tracking the aging of baby boomers, but it has been less successful when addressing what it all means. Just as the 1948 report didn't go much beyond anticipating increased sales of strollers, baby food and toys, more recent accounts have mainly stuck to noting (with some alarm) this cohort's impact on entitlements.

More Baby Boomers, Less Money

Even for those familiar with the scale of the impending age wave, the numbers remain impressive: every day for the next 19 years, some 10,000 baby boomers will reach age 65. Our nation's older adults will be the only segment of the population that will increase by approximately 70 percent, while other age groups will grow slowly, if at all. Few aspects of society will remain untouched by this demographic shift.

Although the timing of the transition of baby boomers from mid-life to later life could have been long anticipated, less easy to foresee has been the difficult social and economic environment in which it is occurring. The elder population's unprecedented growth is taking place concurrently with concern about America's solvency and a need to limit expenditures. Dealing with social problems by creating new government-funded programs seems increasingly unrealistic. Instead of relying on large-scale, top-down programs, we will need to devise innovative, entrepreneurial solutions in public and private sectors.

Fresh Thinking About Aging

Fortunately, a number of promising initiatives have emerged suggesting aging is an opportunity for fresh thinking rather than an unfortunate, inevitable burden. The following are just two recent examples from the United States and France.

Sarasota County, Fla., is home to one of America's oldest population cohorts. The proportion of residents older than 65 (31 percent) is nearly twice that of the United States as a whole (17 percent) and greater than that projected for the rest of the developed world in 2050 (27 percent). A group of Sarasota residents is leveraging the county's demographics by creating the Institute for the Ages, which will offer access to the county as "a natural, community-scale test-bed for innovative products, services, and policies for an aging population." The Institute is designed to serve as a resource for entrepreneurs and researchers, while using the wisdom and insight of older adults in the creative process.

Old'Up, founded in 2008 in Paris, is a membership organization for people ages 75 and older. Its primary mission is to fight against the marginalization of elders and to find useful and meaningful roles for them. Their motto is "Plus si jeunes, mais pas si vieux," or "No longer young, but not so old."

One of Old'Up's first projects has been to work with major cultural institutions in Paris to identify ways of making them 'Every day for the next 19 years, some 10,000 baby boomers will reach age 65.'

more accessible to older visitors. The fledgling organization has already established ties with American groups that share common goals. …