Do Boomers Have the Guts and Wisdom to Course Correct Our Aging Nation?
By Ken Dychtwald
Each day, another ten thousand baby boomers turn 70. If we hope to optimize our newfound longevity and mitigate the growing costs of our anticipated illnesses and entitlements, we need to have the guts and wisdom to set the proper course corrections in motion. Ironically, while our demographic heft is not our fault, its impact may be our legacy.
Course Correction 1: Create a new purpose for maturity
America’s retirees spend an average of 47 hours a week watching television, and maturity does not have enough socially worthwhile purposes. Without envisioning a new purpose for old age, we may create an elder wasteland.
- Better leverage the advanced talents and skills cultivated over a lifetime through multigenerational volunteerism offerings (both tasks and timing).
- Encourage a wide range of inclusive community-based intergenerational programs, activities, and housing.
- Mobilize a revolutionary global Elder Corps in which tens of millions of boomers are recruited to share their values, knowledge, skills, and wisdom with youth in need.
Course Correction 2: Foster healthy aging—on all fronts
While many childhood diseases that took our ancestors’ lives have been eliminated over time, the chronic diseases of later life could become the physical, social, and economic sinkhole of the 21st century.
- Commit more significant resources to the scientific research required to delay or, even better, eliminate the horrific diseases of aging—with particular attention to the most problematic, Alzheimer’s and related dementias.
- Enforce standards of geriatric competency to ensure that healthcare professionals are appropriately skilled and compensated for caring for an aging population. (Note: they’re currently not!)
- Establish a more humane, moral, and respectful approach to late-life palliative care and the dying process.
Course-correction 3: Encourage lifelong learning and re-careering
Since two-thirds of all people who have ever lived past age 65 in the entire history of the world are alive today, longevity is humanity’s new frontier. It is time to unleash and harness the untapped potential of mature men and women.
- Replace the linear life paradigm with a new “cyclic” one that views the longevity bonus as a time for late blooming and new beginnings.
- Smash the silver ceiling and eliminate the rampant ageism that permeates our workforce (and our culture) so that all workers can be judged on their competencies, not their birthdays.
- Reorient our educational systems to distribute learning across the life-course and help adults reboot their skills and mindsets.
Course Correction 4: Assume responsibility for a lifetime of fiscal fitness
Around twenty-five million boomers have accumulated high levels of debt and have virtually no savings, no investments or pensions, and no inheritance promise. Many are heading to a poverty-stricken old age.
- Upgrade financial literacy and financial responsibility through a bold national education “intervention” that targets people at every stage of life.
- Help us help ourselves by encouraging increased personal savings rates, possibly through mandated, tax-advantaged savings and catch-up programs.
- Affluence-test and target entitlements, including Social Security and Medicare, to provide more for those who need help and less for those who don’t.
Course Correction 5: Reset the obsolete markers of aging
Today, we are growing “old” much later than previous generations. Life expectancy is around 78—and steadily rising. It is time to adjust the eligibility age for “old age” entitlements so the age wave won’t crush the money and spirit out of the younger generations forced to support it.
- Remove ageist hiring practices for older adults who wish to or need to keep working. In addition, provide more flex-work, job-sharing, phased retirement, mentoring, and sabbaticals so that everyone can have more balance over an extended work life.
- Unhinge old age entitlements from the obsolete marker of 65 and “index” them to rising longevity.
- Stop powerful special interest groups from blockading thoughtful debate about this much-needed course correction. Dialogue is needed. New and fair solutions are required for these demographically driven transpartisan issues.
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