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Aging Has A Deeper and Brighter Dimension

Aging is breaking away from the cultural norms of the 19th and 20th centuries. We are challenging and discarding long held opinions and beliefs about aging. Fading from popular culture is the notion that our vitality has a limit.

Better medical care, changing diets, and exercise have extended people’s vitality. After age 50, some complete their first marathon or hike the Appalachian trail. Others ski mountains or attend cooking classes in Oaxaca. Eighty percent of luxury tourism is done by people over the age of 55. People over the age of 50 start one-third of all new businesses.

Whether you are an adventurer or gardener, aging has a deeper and brighter dimension. Never before have so many people, advanced in years with such a high level of health and wealth, been alive. Life expectancy in the United States is now 79. In Western Europe it is 84.

Granted, there are millions in need for whom this is not an accurate scenario. But people around the world are living longer and healthier lives.

Retirement With More Vitality

Healthy longevity and falling birthrates create cultural, economic, and political shifts. Populations around the world are aging and this is a trend that is not going to reverse for generations.

The notion of “old age” mirrors one’s mindset. Age is an attitude. A 27 year old could be old. A 72 year old could embrace life with an attitude and energy and joy that would exhaust a 30 year old. There is so much to appreciate as we advance in years. People are embracing each turn that they take around the sun with a sweet wisdom that has them come more alive.

Life and usefulness do not come to a screaming halt when kids leave the nest or when one retires. This time of retirement is a new beginning, founded on a wealth of experience and reinvention. It is for many a time of transition, a renewal.

Retirement is Changing, When Will Products?

The current generation of retirees has rejected stereotypical marketing ploys. Business has been slow to respond to the needs and desires of retirees. Older adults have resisted classifications such as “old” and on the “decline.”

Products sold as helpful prove to be insulting and condescending. These include hearing aids, personal emergency systems, and cell phones with limited features. In his book, The Longevity Economy: Unlocking the World's Fastest-Growing, Most Misunderstood Market, Joseph Coughlin writes,

“geriatric technology lavishes far more attention on basic needs like health and safety than higher-level needs like the desire for human connection, personal or professional ambition, contemplation, and yes, fun.”

Big business lacks imagination when designing products for retirees. Few meet the needs of the elderly in a way that doesn’t exclude them from living fully.

As Coughlin writes:

“it’s easy to see why this approach has prevailed for so long. The alternative—favoring high-level desires like fun over physiological needs like medicine—seems frivolous, even dangerous. (You can’t eat ice cream if you’re dead, after all.)”

One great example of a company that gets it right is OXO. The company started with one product, a potato peeler for arthritic hands. The result is an extensive line of cookware that is intuitive and a complete game changer. It is a type of product that anyone who has peeled anything would want to use and own. It makes a simple chore easier for everyone despite your age. These are the sort of products that work. They are inclusive and transcend age.

A Cultural Reshaping of Retirement

We shouldn’t be so fast to believe what the media is offering us, that people over 50 are on a downward spiral. The media neglects us. Marketers still create a culture of eternal youth and ageism. Watch in the coming years how that begins to turn around. Those who now think of aging as a disease will embrace it as a privileged journey.

And on this journey, by the way, we spend a little money. People over 50 outspend those in the 30-44 age range. According to Coughlin,

"The spending of the 50-plus, combined with downstream effects, accounted for nearly $8 trillion dollars’ worth of economic activity—nearly half of... gross domestic product (GDP).”

Those of us who have been around the block a few times are going back to school. We are starting second or third professions. We invest time in our spiritual, physical, and social lives. We are politically active and engaged. We volunteer. We have a voice and we are not afraid to use it; even if the over-arching media machine fails to listen. We are here and we are real.

A cultural reshaping of retirement is emerging. Retirement is a passage to another vital and meaningful stage in life. It supports us in meeting the realities of aging. This is a new time. Business is slowly waking up to us. We refuse to be set aside.

So, do that thing that is poking at you. Take that risk. Savor that trip. Embrace that person. Live and love on!


AgeLab, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, The Longevity Economy

Our editor recommends another essay by Audrey Meinertzhagen:

Creating Authentic Rituals During the Journey of Life

About the Author(s)

As a Volunteer Caregiver to the Zen Hospice Project and a Course Manager at the CareGivers Project, Audrey Meinertzhagen is passionate about improving the standards of care for older adults and educating caregivers on the principles of mindfulness and self-care.

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