Outliving our vision of ourselves. Just back from the Philips Active Aging Think Tank meeting – in which we echoed the recent frequent Wall Street Journal topic -- living to 100 and beyond. Most of us see ourselves as living to the age (whatever that was) of our parents and grandparents. Since life expectancy has inched past age 80 for women (in more affluent regions) that may seem sensible. Though we may not want to exit in the same way with the same illness, disability, or dementia that they had. But rationalizing optimists that we are, most likely we ascribe what they had to some lifestyle or behavior in the way they lived their lives -- we will overcome heredity just like we’ve overcome setbacks in the past.
But what if our estimates of our future end dates are way off? We are already living in an era where NOT retiring fully from work is beginning to feel like the new normal. Where financial portfolios are not what they were, where housing is not necessarily a bankable asset, where medical intervention can defer or delay debilitation from illness or chronic conditions. What if at 50, boomers are only halfway to the finish line? At 60, there are more than 30 years to go? At 70, there’s time for a third or fourth reinvention of job, city, spouse, expectations? What if a ‘senior’ isn’t, well, senior? As Social Security date deferment is discussed and debated ad nauseum, maybe other aging sweeteners like the AARP discounts at 50+ are just too early -- imagine 50 years of attending Life@50+?
Resetting our thinking – life and health may span many decades. Invert the premise inherent in our perceptions paradigms begin to shift. For example, one of the repeated and tired phrases among health advocates is that obesity will counteract longevity – and if that doesn’t get us, it will be lowered economic expectations that result in our seeking less medical preventive care, and if we’re still around to become demented, well then, never mind, we won’t be living that long after all. But what if predictions are wrong and we will be living past the nearly useless Fidelity Retirement Calculator plan dates, that we will have enough health span to match more of our life span and that life, golf and constant socializing in a 55+ community may not sound like a compelling opportunity?
What sounds good and what sounds old? What if we need to drop words like ‘retirement’ and ‘post-retirement,’ mix up thinking about work opportunities beyond Retired Brains.com, blur Lifelong Learning into the rest of just plain learning, start marketing the Philips Direct Life and FitBit gadgets to push older adults and not just fitness jocks towards our quantified selves? What if we replace market images of feeble aging with energized images of hikers, bikers and long-time workers who have smart phones, smart jobs, and smart ideas? Look around and those exceptional late-life achievers (remember Hurricane Hazel, the 90-year-old hockey-playing mayor of Mississauga, Ontario) may simply be achievers – and everyone else may just stop calculating retirement savings and gradually raise their own long lifespan expectations.