Maybe it’s time to get serious about a major “redesign of
life.” Thirty years were added to average life expectancy in the 20th century,
and rather than imagine the scores of ways we could use these years to improve our
quality of life, many just have a longer ‘elderly’ life.
As a result, many are anxious about the prospect of living
for a century. Asked about aspirations for living to 100, typical responses are
“I hope I don’t outlive my money” or “I hope I don’t get dementia.” If we do
not begin to envision what a satisfying, engaged and meaningful
century-long life can look like, we will certainly fail to build worlds that
can take us there.
According to a recent article in the Washington Post by Laura L. Carstensen, a professor of psychology and the director of the Stanford
Center on Longevity, the tension surrounding aging is due largely to the speed
with which life expectancy has increased. “Each generation is born into a world
prepared by its ancestors with knowledge, infrastructure and social norms,” she
explains. “The human capacity to benefit from this inherited culture afforded
us such extraordinary advantages that premature death was dramatically reduced
in a matter of decades. Yet as longevity surged, culture didn’t keep up.”
Last year, the Stanford Center on Longevity launched an
initiative called “The New Map of Life.” They began by convening a group of
experts, including engineers, climate scientists, pediatricians, geriatricians,
behavioral scientists, financial experts, biologists, educators, health-care
providers, human resource consultants and philanthropists. This group was charged with envisioning what
vibrant century-long lives would look like and then began the “remapping
process.” Determining how the traditional models of education, work,
lifestyles, social relationships, financial planning, health care, early
childhood and intergenerational compacts would need to change to support long
Laura Carstensen clarifies. “We quickly agreed that it would
be a mistake to replace the old rigid model of life — education first, then
family and work, and finally retirement — with a new model just as rigid.
Instead, there should be many different routes, interweaving leisure, work,
education and family throughout life, taking people from birth to death with
places to stop, rest, change courses and repeat steps along the way. Old age
alone wouldn’t last longer; rather, youth and middle age would expand, too.
“We agreed that longevity demands rethinking of all stages
of life, not just old age. To thrive in an age of rapid knowledge transfer,
children not only need reading, math and computer literacy, but they also need
to learn to think creatively and not hold on to “facts” too tightly. They’ll
need to find joy in unlearning and relearning. Teens could take breaks from
high school and take internships in workplaces that intrigue them. Education
wouldn’t end in youth but rather be ever-present and take many forms outside of
classrooms, from micro-degrees to traveling the world.
“Work, too, must change. There’s every reason to expect more
zigzagging in and out of the labor force — especially by employees who are
caring for young children or elderly parents — and more participation by
workers over 60. There is good reason to think we will work longer, but we can
improve work quality with shorter workweeks, flexible scheduling and frequent
If these plans hold true, then financing longevity will
require major rethinking as well. Rather than saving ever-larger pots of money
for the end of life, generations may share wealth earlier than traditional
bequests. Maintaining physical fitness from the beginning to the end of life will
become very important. Getting children outside, encouraging sports, reducing
the time we sit, and spending more time walking and moving will greatly improve
For now, it is important to focus what we can change.
Instead of just waiting to “get old” and deal with whatever that might bring,
we can start building a plan that will help us live longer, more productively,
and without becoming a burden. We encourage you to join us for one of our
Tacoma Elder Care Workshops, presented by Bob Michaels, an attorney here at Smith Alling in Tacoma, WA,. Where Bob can help you envision how your later
years in life will go, and how to get there. All it takes is a plan.