Post CES reflection on role of technology and Alzheimer's.
Boston, mid-May, 2016
Perhaps we need a new set of work and life expectations. Doesn't it strike you as interesting that the so-called 'retirement' age (that is when you can receive full Social Security benefits) has been 65 for a long time? It has bumped up just recently -- but then so has average life expectancy. According to data compiled by the Social Security Administration: "A man reaching age 65 today can expect to live, on average, until age 83. A woman turning age 65 today can expect to live, on average, until age 85. And those are just averages. About one out of every four 65-year-olds today will live past age 90, and one out of 10 will live past age 95." The oldest age that SSA considers for initial full eligibility is 67 -- for those born in 1960 or later. Meanwhile, the average anticipated retirement age in the US is, what a surprise, age 67.
What, are we kidding -- and who are we kidding? So let's see, there are 40 million people age 65+ in the US today. Men surviving the age of 65 have an average life expectancy of 18 more years, women on average live another 20 years. These averages do not account for variations in income, health and mental status and self-care, insurance or quality of medical care. These averages just ARE. So put starkly, with 18 and 20 years to go, what looks like 'retirement' should/will include work and earning money (NY Times). But wait, only 7.2 million (18.5%) of the 40 million are working today -- that Times article that includes people aged 72, 87, and 92! One of the oldest Walmart employees in the US is 92! Let's imagine the lives and jobs of today's 65-year-olds extending out into the late 80's or beyond, because one in four of them will live past their 90th birthday. Meanwhile, the percentage of the non-retired who say that they will have enough money in retirement has dropped to 38%, down from 42% last year. And let's just forget about the optimists under age 40 who actually believe they will be 'retired' at 65.
Can someone call it like it is -- and pump up skill acquisition earlier? This is a crisis of missed opportunity for those nearing age 65 today, but I cannot find an organization that sees an urgent problem. So what jobs are feasible at 80, assuming capacities are intact? Well, surely at the most basic level, earning a living without risking life and limb must include using the Internet, interacting with software or retail check-out applications, and/or sales/service on the phone like Tree Rings. Oh wait, the American Society on Aging (ASA) lumps technology with housing and accessibility. The National Council on Aging (NCOA) believes tech adoption will occur naturally -- so no standards or broad-based action is required. AARP represents the needs of the older and oldest adults, yet it does not take an active part in training older adults to use or interact with computers, tablets, smart phones (or online cashier interfaces). Even though there are silo'd and loudly hailed initiatives here and there, these organizations act as though tech adoption (and skills) will grow organically, facilitated by volunteers at a Council on Aging here or through a state AARP there -- or oddly, as in the case of AARP, that seniors will learn online how to use technology. Duh.
Look around for programs designed to ramp up skills of the 70+. Don't see them? Think the volunteer programs to train seniors -- which vary all over the place -- are adequate? Even if savings and retirement plans appear adequate for this unprecedented and LONG retirement period, most people will need to work at least part-time. Yet to work longer without marketable skills, beneficiaries of this new longevity may struggle to find or keep those needed jobs. And it may be difficult to acquire new skills without comfort in the use of some sort of tech. Programs that emphasize social contact or are designed to 'help' seniors are falling short. They must help evaluate post-65 job skill levels and offer gap mitigation recommendations and/or training. Today's programs seem both sporadic and spotty -- reflecting the risks and opportunities inherent in our lengthening lives.