Over the next four weeks, we have invited guests to review books that impact our aging population. Celebrating our Ruth Frost Parker Symposium on October 11, I begin the series by reviewing The Longevity Economy: Inside the World’s Fastest Growing, Most Misunderstood Market, by Dr. Joseph Coughlin (our keynote at the event). The book offers a critical challenge for business leaders to quickly refocus their energy on the needs of our aging society.
The book says today’s average life span has extended to 85.5 years for women and 82.9 for men. These extra years are a gift that invites aging adults, especially Baby Boomers, to experience life in bold new ways not yet clearly defined. Dr. Coughlin writes that the main purpose of this book “is to help businesses understand this brave, old world and succeed in it. [It's] to enable them to harness the heightened expectations of Baby Boomers craving a better old age and to avoid being left in the dust of creative destruction as others do the same.” (pg.19)
Redefining the Future
Divided into two parts, the book begins by reflecting on the history of aging and perspectives of retirement since the Civil War. The current aging generation’s understanding of retirement is very different from other generations. Coughlin compares and contrasts the past and present to the extended forecast of our rapidly aging society. Dispelling misconceptions about aging, Dr. Coughlin identifies women as a growing economic force. Their purchasing power will challenge businesses as they design future products. Consider the use of kitchen utensils. Their handles have been redesigned for an easier grip. This allows people with arthritis, or limited dexterity, greater ease in the kitchen. Other time-saving products have recently been developed to simplify the ease of cooking healthier foods.
The Power of Community
In the 70s and 80s, retired adults flocked to specifically designed senior communities, especially in the south for “retirement activities” and warmer weather. They also enjoyed the additional sunshine and available amenities. Advancing years and health limitations have challenged many older adults to reconsider returning to their former communities. There, friends, family and a supportive web are more readily available. Also, studies have identified the health benefits of multi-generational relationships among diverse age groups. Discussion has produced empathy and acknowledgement of a great need for continued interaction. The concept of community is also changing to create housing options for couples who require different levels of healthcare assistance to remain closely connected.
Addressing the Critical Needs of an Aging Population
The second part of Coughlin’s book addresses the critical need for advanced healthcare technologies. The design and development of adaptive products is a driving force in defining marketing needs in aging. Baby Boomers also seek to maintain strong relationship connections while maximizing their highest level of function. Their generation desires efficient, easy-to-use and creative technological tools. Some devices may be as simple as medication reminders. Others may include video-monitoring devices or robotic technology, such as cars for safe and convenient transport. Connective devices that allow grandparents to maintain an active presence in their grandchildren’s lives are also essential.
Looking into the Unknown
Finally, Dr.Coughlin challenges the reader to look at life in 8,000-day chunks. He identifies the stages as birth to college, college to midlife, and midlife to retirement. It is shocking to consider that retirement may last 8,000 to 12,00, or possibly, 16,000 days! He writes, “This new expanse of healthier years is an open frontier that utterly lacks the signposts that tell younger people how to navigate their lives.” It is imperative that aging adults lead the charge to gain a respectful, positive image. As they interact with peers and upcoming generations, society will be more prepared to celebrate the benefits generously provided by the gift of time. It is interesting to see the imperative demands placed on our global economy. All facets of business, engineering, design, development, and marketing must be thoughtfully retooled to address our rapidly changing culture and prepare the next generation for abundant aging.
Celebrating Abundant Life
I highly recommend The Longevity Economy: Inside the World’s Fastest Growing, Most Misunderstood Market. Dr. Coughlin's in-depth research was presented in a very conversational style. It challenged me to reflect upon the historical issues that surround aging and upon my vision for life’s next steps. As a Baby Boomer, the book created a sense of anticipation for the journey ahead and the importance of inviting a diverse multi-generational community to join with me. I seek to begin each day with a sense of anticipation and wonder, looking forward to the next generation of technological advances.
Please join us on October 11 in Westerville, Ohio, to hear Dr. Coughlin share in person about the work of MIT’s AgeLab. Engage with him and others in central Ohio who are using technology to improve the quality of life for older adults! To register, click here.