The Upside of Aging (Part 1): Something Extraordinary

In a world full of challenges, there will always be those who are blind to the issues, those who see, but look for someone else to handle, and those who give up, convincing themselves the problem can’t be solved. Fortunately, there will always be those who embrace life’s challenges as an opportunity to do something extraordinary.

The Upside of Aging, to which I was honored to contribute a chapter, was released this month. It explores a major challenge – the aging of populations in the United States and around the world, coupled with longer life expectancies. The authors cover a broad array of implications, including impacts to economies, communities, and current workers, as well as to retirement and healthcare systems.

Importantly, the authors also share key insights into the future, one they see as full of hope and promise. They illustrate the shift in mindset already underway and the re-definition of retirement. And they share current advancements and innovative thinking to address the challenges associated with the extension of life.

Given the substance of this work, I am posting three blog posts to discuss the major themes. In part one, I’ll frame the key issues, because it’s critical we recognize what we’re up against. In part 2, I’ll share insights from the other contributors on ways to harness the benefits of longevity and promote lives that are healthier, more active and more productive. In part 3, I’ll wrap up with some thoughts from my chapter on “retirement readiness,” and the things that need to change so workers can fund a retirement that could last 20, 30 even 40 years.

Framing the Issue

The numbers are remarkable:

  • Globally, the 65-plus population is projected to reach 0.9 billion by 2030, an increase of 80 percent from 2010.
  • The World Health Organization projects the number of people suffering from dementia will more than triple from 2012 to 2050, as will the cost, which is expected to reach $2 trillion annually.
  • In the United States, the Social Security system is under increasing pressure. The number of workers per beneficiary has dropped from 17 in the early 1950s to fewer than 3 today. It is projected to decline further over the next 20 years, approaching a ratio of 2:1.

Not exactly a ray of sunshine. But before anyone gets too despondent, consider a great insight from Michael Milken in his foreword to the book.

“While the challenges we face today may seem more complicated, the tools we’ll use to solve them are also much more powerful and sophisticated. Genomics provides one important example: The original sequencing of the human genome took 13 years and cost $3 billion; today it takes a few hours and the cost is approaching $1,000.”

In other words, by embracing the challenges of aging as opportunities, and through innovation, we can be the architects of the upside of aging. We can make it something truly extraordinary.