What would the future look like if we could all live to 100? How must housing, retirement, health care, technology and other sectors change to meet new demands?
A new collection from the Milken Institute explores possibilities about the future of aging through the lenses of 20 thought leaders in the field. These pundits, with backgrounds in research, finance, education, urban planning, public policy, public health and non-profits, lay out their individual visions of the longevity revolution’s effect on where we live, how we work, how we spend leisure time, who takes care of us and whether we can stave off debilitating conditions through science.
Admittedly, this compilation appeals to my wonky side. Your mileage may vary. However, even if you’re not a closet policy geek, it’s worth a read. Buried within these narratives are golden nuggets of story ideas to pursue at the local, state and national levels.
For example, Henry Cisneros, former secretary of U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development writes, “a senior population growing so extensively and rapidly will present significant challenges to our nation’s housing and health-care systems.”
He discusses the need for increasing the supply of affordable and aging-friendly homes, noting that in 2013, 1.5 million seniors spent more that half of their income just on housing. Most don’t receive any federal housing assistance. And, while many older adults want to age in place, their homes and communities lack the kind of accessibility that seniors needs to remain there.
- What housing models exist or are being planned in your community?
- Has your city/state funding any pilot programs or have they allocated money towards affordable, accessible, senior-friendly homes?
- What community services are available to enable older adults to age in place?
Yves Joanette, scientific director of the Institute of Aging at the Canadian Institutes of Health Research; and a professor on the faculty of medicine at Université de Montréal, addressed the connection between the quality of aging, our early-life experiences and how we care for ourselves during the ensuing years. “The future of aging would be brighter if there were programs to inform the public about the early-life optimal conditions that favor the good sides of our genes and diminish their dark sides,” he writes.
This includes avoiding injuries like concussions, which have been linked to Alzheimer’s disease, and minimizing risk factors for chronic conditions like diabetes and heart disease.
He also highlights the importance of social and intergenerational connections: “Policymakers should encourage our social lives, our intergenerational contacts, our urban social hubs and our transportation to favor such networking.”
- What types of intergenerational activities, such as grandparent volunteers in schools or other community programs, are in place?
- How are public health officials addressing long-term risks of chronic diseases?
- If head injury prevention programs exist, are the long term effects discussed?
Robin Mockenhaupt, chief of staff at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF). writes that cross-sector partnerships “among businesses, public agencies, community groups, health-care providers – and older adults themselves – can develop innovations that help seniors remain independent and productive for as long as possible.”
She hopes to see more towns and cities that are walkable, with good public transit, plenty of public spaces, and offering lots of healthy food choices and elder-appropriate services. Lawrence, Massachusetts, one of RWJF’s Culture of Health Prize winners, is such a place. Princeton, New Jersey, is another age-friendly town.
- How age-friendly is your town?
- How many criteria does it meet on the World Health Organization’s checklist?
- What public-private partnerships are helping older adults in your community?
- How are cities adapting their infrastructure: from lengthening the time to cross busy streets to setting up farmers markets near places where seniors congregate?
The longevity revolution is real, and it’s happening now. More people are living longer, and are remaining active, vibrant participants in their communities. Most don’t intend to spend 25 or 30 years doing nothing. They want to (and may need to) work. How will employers accommodate an older workforce – and value their experience? What does it mean for financial planning? These issues are also explored in the compendium.
It’s an interesting, and optimistic read on the future of aging. Many of the contributors point out that the future is already here – so boomers, Gen X-ers, and even millenials need to be planning now for what life is going to be like at age 80, 90 and beyond.