Our Aging Population In The Country Is Really A Gift

I recently listened to a lecture by Joseph Coughlin, the founder and director of MIT’s Age Lab. He is also the author of a recently published book called “The Longevity Economy.” In both of these he wow’s the audience about his understanding of a world whose population is growing older and what this means to us personally, as a country and as a global economy. Joe is perplexed by the lack of attention our aging population is getting across all industries since market research predicts that the 60+ older adult population spending will reach 15 trillion worldwide in 2020. That’s a lot of buying power. He also states that in the US alone, the 50+ older consumers hold over 83 percent of household wealth. Unfortunately many are ignoring this fact or viewing the aging of the world’s population as some sort of disaster that is descending upon us. But like Joe I view it as a gift and I am constantly thinking about the opportunities that this longer life can afford us. Are you?

Certainly there are challenges in a population that is growing older. Some of us will be plagued by illness and injury but that “senior” stereotype of an old person walking haltingly slumped over a walker is really not the reality for the many of the baby boomer generation who live beyond age 65. Advances in healthcare and a more health conscious population who are eating healthy, exercising regularly and not smoking means that most of us are staying active and engaged in our 80’s, 90’s and some beyond. This healthier and active older generation is not just spending their time globe-trotting, hanging at the local senior center or sitting at home in front of the TV buying off of QVC. Many have taken on second and third careers (not all paid), in a field that is different from what they did before age 65 but that fulfills them in ways they couldn’t allow when they were younger and had to worry about supporting a family. There is also a lot of creativity in this generation who have more time on their hands to explore new things than those of us who are still in the rat race. It’s time we all took notice.

One other thing that Joe Coughlin said that really caught my attention is that “old age” is a made up concept, so why do we often have such a negative view about it? Did you know that in 1900 if you were 30 years old you were 6x more likely to die before your next birthday than 30 year olds of today (12x if you were a woman). Now if you reach age 65, most of us can expect to live another 17-20 years, 25 years if you live in Japan. That’s a lot of years to create, explore and contribute to the world, but it’s up to us. We must start changing the narrative about growing older and start demanding that society as well as all sectors of industry pay attention. This older group is going to need things, innovative things to make life easier, allow people more mobility and fulfillment. And guess what, they (we) have the money to pay for it. But we are not going to pay for things that lock us into a stereotypical old person who is frail and infirmed. That is just not who we are or who we want to be.

Creating a new narrative for, let’s call it older adulthood (no one wants to be called a senior), will not be easy, since the stereotype of getting old is so ingrained in our society. However, New York State is off to a great start by becoming the first state in the US to be designated as “Age Friendly”. You may say, what’s so age friendly about NY? This designation is just the beginning. Making sure that our society takes notice of our changing demographic starts with a policy change to ensure all sectors of government are designing, creating and being sensitive to the needs and desires of older adults. This conscious effort by NY government will hopefully ignite change in all sectors of business and industry to start creating and innovating with a more realistic view of older adulthood. Older adults who want to remain active, contribute to society in fulfilling ways and have money to buy goods and services that not only meet their needs but fulfill their desires and maybe even some childhood fantasies.

We can all help. It starts with opening our mind to the possibilities and not limiting what we can do as an older adult at the outset. Sure our bodies at 80 years cannot do everything that our 20 year old body did but that should be a reason to find new ways to do the things we enjoy or want to enjoy and not limit ourselves by saying it can’t be done or they (meaning older people) won’t want that. We won’t know unless we try, we won’t try if we don’t create opportunities for older adults to engage and dream about what this third act of life could be. I hope you all will start dreaming with me and maybe we can create an Age Friendly Chautauqua County where older adults want to come and play, work, laugh and grow older. We don’t have to move to Florida, we can have it all here if we only dare to dream and do it!

Chautauqua County Office for the Aging will be holding our annual public hearing on October 3rd at 11a.m. at the Dunkirk Senior Center. This is your opportunity to share your dreams and wishes for the future. We also would like your input on the $750,000 grant the City of Dunkirk received with Senator Cathy Young’s assistance for capital improvements on the senior center building. Your ideas are needed so we can start innovating by creating a new center that meets the desires and dreams of older adults now and into the future. I hope you will join the coversation. For more information contact the NY Connects helpline at 753-4582, 363-4582, or 661-7582.