Designing a Better Future

Musings Idea-48100_1280As a Boomer, can you actually design a better future?

That's an intriguing question at the heart of a recent project called "Co-designing with Older People." Alive Ventures founder, designer, and social entrepreneur John Zapolski created the project in collaboration with human-centered design innovator Ayse Birsel, with backing from non-profit The SCAN Foundation - which funds projects to improve the lives of older adults. Ayse Birsel, principal at Birsel + Seck Design Studio, is author of the book, Design the Life You Love: A Step-by-Step Guide to Building a Meaningful Future.  The project was a year-long study engaging with 250+ seniors (65 and older) across the country in 15 workshops. It was done to gain insight into what older people want and to encourage designers and businesses to "co-design" with older people.

Some of the learnings that came out of the study are worthy of consideration. For example, the study found that rather than being defined by worries, older people are generally "optimistic, interesting, resilient, dynamic, curious and courageous." They do what they love and enjoy things they had no time for when they were younger. Particularly interesting is the fact that seniors "are craving new kinds of experiences: Experiences that are designed for them and by them, rather than someone else's ideas of what older people should be doing."

There was also a sobering part of the study: "Aging isn't inherently a problem. The challenge is that social constructs, institutions and services have failed to support all of us as we age. In fact, they've failed the people who are living the longest."

I thought some of the quotes from seniors who participated in the study were indicative of what we all want and the way we look at life. Here is just a sampling:

I want to connect, teach and share the art of living with people of all ages. I have a lifetime of experience to share.

I want to get things done with joy and feel good about how I spend my time, without feeling guilty about productivity.

I want to find work that I enjoy, that I can search and evaluate based on things that matter to me -- how much I want to travel for it, the type of work, the social environment, what I get in return -- connections, money, intellectual stimulation or a combination.

I find big tasks daunting. Tasks like downsizing and moving to a new smaller place, or writing my family history book. I'd like help with breaking these into smaller steps, manage my time and energy while feeling accomplished.

I am tired of feeling invisible. I want to be visible physically with color and great design and the courage to deploy them.

What I'm most proud of at this point in my life is my ability to never give up on the goal I wish to achieve...no matter how long it takes.

A 61-page report shares many insights, ideas and outcomes from the study. It makes for fascinating reading. You can download a PDF of the report by clicking the link below.

Download Co-Designing-with-Older-People

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The Four Pillars of the New Retirement - Pillar 4: Finances

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Last time, I discussed some of the findings about Purpose in the study, "The Four Pillars of the New Retirement," issued recently by Edward Jones in association with Age Wave and The Harris Poll. Purpose was one of four pillars covered in the study: Health, Family, Purpose and Finances.

"The Four Pillars of the New Retirement" was a major study comprised of a comprehensive examination of 100+ North American studies, articles and publications; in-depth interviews with subject matter experts and financial advisors; online forums and focus groups;  a survey of 9,000 adults across five generations (18+), including retirees and working-age individuals, in the U.S. and Canada fielded in May and June 2020; and exhaustive analysis by team members. As the COVID-19 pandemic spread, the study was paused and modified to include specific information about the effect of the virus on retirement.

Now for Pillar 4: Finances.

Nearly half (46 percent) of retirees said the primary purpose of money is to "provide security for the unexpected," while 45 percent said it is to "give me the freedom to live how I want." Despite a major concern about their finances in retirement, more than three-fourths of those planning to retire have not figured out how much money they will need in retirement. More than one-third (36 percent) of retirees find managing money in retirement even more confusing than saving for it. More than half (56 percent) said they wish they had budgeted more for unexpected expenses in retirement. Both retirees and non-retirees agree that the greatest financial worry they have in retirement is healthcare costs, including long-term care. (Current data suggests that the average couple will need $300,000 for healthcare and $140,000 for long-term care.)

On the positive side, retirees and pre-retirees alike see the value of financial planning. More than half of both audiences are interested in receiving retirement-related guidance from a financial professional about "an investment strategy for my retirement savings to withstand market volatility," as well as "determining how to best draw from investments in retirement."

This concludes my review of "The Four Pillars of the New Retirement." To gain access to a PDF of the complete report, simply click the link below.

Download FourPillarsReport

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The Four Pillars of the New Retirement - Pillar 3: Purpose

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Last time, I discussed some of the findings about Family in the study, "The Four Pillars of the New Retirement," issued recently by Edward Jones in association with Age Wave and The Harris Poll. Family was one of four pillars covered in the study: Health, Family, Purpose and Finances.

"The Four Pillars of the New Retirement" was a major study comprised of a comprehensive examination of 100+ North American studies, articles and publications; in-depth interviews with subject matter experts and financial advisors; online forums and focus groups;  a survey of 9,000 adults across five generations (18+), including retirees and working-age individuals, in the U.S. and Canada fielded in May and June 2020; and exhaustive analysis by team members. As the COVID-19 pandemic spread, the study was paused and modified to include specific information about the effect of the virus on retirement.

Now for Pillar 3: Purpose.

The report suggests that "Retirees with a strong sense of purpose are happier and healthier, more active and more socially engaged, and they live longer. ... They want to feel useful more than youthful."

How do retirees pursue purpose? One way is through relationships: 87 percent of retirees indicated they prioritize staying in touch with family and friends who don't live with them. In terms of personal sources of purpose, meaning and fulfillment, 76 percent said "spending time with loved ones" was their top choice, 67 percent said "being true to myself," and 64 percent said "doing interesting and enjoyable things."

New retirees find it challenging to have a sense of purpose after they retire from their jobs. Almost a third (31 percent) of retirees who have been retired less than five years said they struggled to find a sense of purpose in retirement. Retirees miss people and social stimulation in the workplace more than money: 41 percent miss the social aspects of working the most vs. 20 percent who miss the paycheck and benefits. Retirees also struggle to find good post-work avenues for fulfillment: Only 24 percent of today's retirees have volunteered, and only 50 percent of adults age 50-plus would like to serve as a mentor. Still, 95 percent of retirees said it's important to keep learning and growing.

There seems to be a great untapped potential in the country's retired population: 89 percent of Americans across all generations feel "there should be more ways for retirees to use their talents and knowledge for the benefit of their communities and society." A considerable majority of every generation would like younger and older generations to take more time to learn from one another; the percentages for each generation are: Gen Z 83 percent; Millennial 84 percent; Gen X 90 percent; Boomer 94 percent; Silent Generation 98 percent.

Next time: Pillar 4: Finances.

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The Four Pillars of the New Retirement - Pillar 2: Family

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Last time, I discussed some of the findings about Health in the study, "The Four Pillars of the New Retirement," issued recently by Edward Jones in association with Age Wave and The Harris Poll. Health was one of four pillars covered in the study: Health, Family, Purpose and Finances.

"The Four Pillars of the New Retirement" was a major study comprised of a comprehensive examination of 100+ North American studies, articles and publications; in-depth interviews with subject matter experts and financial advisors; online forums and focus groups;  a survey of 9,000 adults across five generations (18+), including retirees and working-age individuals, in the U.S. and Canada fielded in May and June 2020; and exhaustive analysis by team members. As the COVID-19 pandemic spread, the study was paused and modified to include specific information about the effect of the virus on retirement.

Now for Pillar 2: Family.

It will certainly come as no surprise that retirees say family is "their greatest source of satisfaction, support, joy and even purpose," according to the report. What may be surprising, however, is that more than half of every generation thinks that family is defined not just by blood relations, but as "anyone I love and care for whether or not I am related to them." Fifty-seven percent of the Silent Generation feel that way, while 61 percent of Boomers agree. As you might expect, 67 percent of all Americans say the pandemic has brought their family closer together, but here's a sobering thought: COVID-19 has prompted nearly 30 million Americans to have end-of-life discussions for the first time.

Retirees have a strong sense of generational generosity: 71 percent of them said they would be willing to offer financial support to their family, even if it would jeopardize their own financial future. At the same time, 72 percent of retirees said that one of their biggest fears is becoming a burden on their families. 

While one might assume that younger generations think about inheriting material possessions, it is heartening to learn that 83 percent of younger adults say that memories, values and life lessons are the most important things to receive as an inheritance, according to the report. U.S. retirees feel much the same way, with 75 percent of them agreeing with younger generations on the importance of memories, values and life lessons vs. 25 percent seeing money, real estate and assets of financial value as most important.

Almost half (47 percent) of retirees worry about becoming more isolated as they grow older. Loneliness, however, seems to be more problematic for younger generations: The highest loneliness score is for Gen Z (48.3 percent), followed by Millennial (45.3 percent), Gen X (45.1 percent), Boomer (42.4 percent) and Silent Gen (38.6 percent).

Next time: Pillar 3: Purpose.

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The Four Pillars of the New Retirement - Pillar 1: Health

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In a previous post, I mentioned an important new study called "The Four Pillars of the New Retirement," issued recently by Edward Jones in association with Age Wave and The Harris Poll. Since then, I have had the opportunity to attend a webinar that presented the report's highlights, and I've also gained access to the full report. This information is so significant to Boomers that I am devoting several posts to cover each of the four pillars: Health, Family, Purpose and Finances.

Before discussing Health, here's a brief overview: This was a major study comprised of a comprehensive examination of 100+ North American studies, articles and publications; in-depth interviews with subject matter experts and financial advisors; online forums and focus groups;  a survey of 9,000 adults across five generations (18+), including retirees and working-age individuals, in the U.S. and Canada fielded in May and June 2020; and exhaustive analysis by team members. As the COVID-19 pandemic spread, the study was paused and modified to include specific information about the effect of the virus on retirement.

The term "new retirement" emerges from a first datapoint in the study: 55 percent of retirees define retirement as "a new chapter in life."

As for the impact of COVID-19, 29 percent of U.S. adults who plan to retire say the virus has made them consider retiring later, 10 percent say they will retire earlier, and 61 percent have not seen an impact on their plan to retire. One interesting observation about the virus: Its impact on people's ability to cope has been less severe as people age. Of the silent generation, 39 percent said they were coping "very well" and 56 percent said they were coping "somewhat well." Boomers had a similar response: 33 percent very well and 55 percent somewhat well. Younger generations, however, exhibit more stress: Gen X - 29 percent very well and 56 percent somewhat well, Millennials - 26 percent very well and 50 percent somewhat well, Gen Z - 21 percent very well and 55 percent somewhat well.

When asked if they have suffered a mental health decline since the COVID-19 pandemic, only 8 percent of the Silent Generation said yes. The percentages for other generations were: Boomer - 15 percent, Gen X - 25 percent, Millennial - 27 percent, Gen Z - 37 percent.

Pillar 1: Health

Pillar 1 presents a complex picture of aging statistics and the manner in which generations view health issues as they age. While 93 percent of retirees agree it's never too late to improve your health, only 55 percent say they maintain a healthy diet, and only 52 percent say they exercise regularly. Analysts call this an "intention/action gap." Of the Silent Generation, 34 percent rank their physical health as good to excellent, but 67 percent rank their mental health as good or excellent. For Boomers, the percentages are 34 percent and 62 percent respectively.

When the study data was analyzed by geographic area rather than age, 72 percent of those who live in a small town said their mental health was very good to excellent vs. 64 percent for suburb, 58 percent for rural area, and 58 percent for large city.

Retirees are concerned about brain health as they age. Almost a third (32 percent) said the condition they feared most in later life was Alzheimer's/dementia. Cancer was second (21 percent), followed by contagious disease such as COVID-19 and influenza (19 percent).

While the average life expectancy in the United States is 78.5, individuals are expected to spend ten years in poor health. Both lifespan and healthspan vary widely based on the state in which someone resides.

Next time: Pillar 2: Family.

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Is It Time to Become "Organized Radicals"?

Musings K-mitch-hodge-r3IE4JJLrFk-unsplashA recent article in The New York Times about the forgotten history of the Gray Panthers by author/professor Susan J. Douglas really resonated with me. Maybe you don't remember the Gray Panthers and their fiery founder, Maggie Kuhn, since they were active fifty years ago when Boomers were much younger. Their mission was to advocate on behalf of older Americans. Kuhn built the organization up to an impressive membership of 100,000 oldsters in more than 30 states by the late 1970s, writes Douglas. Kuhn was incensed at being forced to retire from her job at age 65, and equally disgusted by the "disengagement theory" popular at the time. This theory suggested "it was normal and natural for older people to simply withdraw from society."

Fast forward to 2020 and it might be easy to dismiss the Gray Panthers as just a bunch of angry radicals. After all, we have two septuagenarians running for President this year. But not so fast. While we could make a case that Americans over 65 are treated more equitably today, ageism remains a vexing problem in our society. Older workers are still very much discriminated against. The media is still very much biased against elders. Brand marketers and their agencies are still very much focused on youth, even though the real buying power is still in the hands of Boomers.

In her article, Douglas points to some of what Kuhn and the Gray Panthers fought against in the 70s: mandatory retirement ages, lack of accessibility in mass transportation, cuts in Social Security and Medicare, nursing home abuse, inequitable health care, negative stereotypes, racism and sexism. To Kuhn's credit, she embraced intergenerational alliances through the organization's motto, "Age and youth in action." She encouraged older and younger generations to work together instead of being at odds with one another. All of this sounds awfully familiar to me, so maybe things haven't changed so much.

Douglas writes that the demise of the Gray Panthers was caused, in part, because "there's been a shift away from activism on the part of older people and toward more institutionalized forms of political power." I would suggest another possibility: that after the 1960s and 1970s, Americans may have been feeling fatigued by activism in general.

Thankfully, we have seen a rebirth of activism, but today's activism is being channeled differently. It still focuses on racism, sexism and social injustice in general -- but not so much on ageism. While it is encouraging to see intergenerational forms of activism now, how many rallies are held in support of older Americans' rights? Despite our economic power, we seem to have taken a back seat when it comes to activism.

So is it time to follow the lead of the forgotten Gray Panthers? Do old people need to become "organized radicals," as Susan Douglas suggests? Or will our generation willingly "disengage" and become forgotten too? I welcome your thoughts.

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A Great Time to "Intergenerate"

OnaWhim Hand-1549132_1920One of the lessons of COVID-19 is that connections with other people matter. Thankfully, despite isolation and social distancing, we have other ways to connect and communicate. While it is natural to gravitate to our peers, this is also a great time to connect with younger generations. One organization, Encore.org, is all about intergeneration connections. Through their "Gen2Gen" initiative, Encore.org is encouraging oldsters like us to find ways to interact with youngsters.

Encore's "10 Organizations Connecting Generations During the Pandemic" lists opportunities to make connections from your own home in ways that could be meaningful to both you and others. You can answer young people's career questions, you can be a young person's email pen pal, or you can engage in online mentoring. It's up to you how much time you'd like to invest and the means of communication you'd be interested in utilizing.

As Encore, reports, Boomers and older Americans aren't the only ones feeling the stress of pandemic isolation -- younger generations feel it too. A win-win situation could be intergenerational communication, says Encore: "While the pandemic continues to spread throughout the U.S., innovators — from all parts of the country and of all ages — are ushering in new ways to connect the generations, easing social isolation for both generations. They’re connecting strangers for caring calls, bringing together pen pals from different generations, and providing homework help to young people whose parents could use a break."

Encore.org is a great resource for remote intergenerational activities, but chances are there are opportunities in your local community to make connections with younger generations that don't involve face-to-face contact. It could be a refreshing, revitalizing experience at a time when we all need a lift.

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How Old is Too Old?

Musings Old-2742052_1920I recently attended an online talk co-sponsored by the American Federation for Aging Research and Prevention magazine. The speaker was Dr. Nir Barzilai. In addition to being a professor at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Dr. Barzilai is that school's Chair of Aging Research and founding director of the Institute for Aging Research. He is also the author of the new book, Age Later: Health Span, Life Span, and the New Science of Longevity

Dr. Barzilai discussed, in layman's terms, his breakthrough research on aging. He primarily studies centenarians to assess the effects of aging and, more specifically, to better understand why those over 100 years of age live longer. The most compelling question Dr. Barzilai tries to answer is, "Can we prevent or delay aging?" He believes the answer is Yes. In his book Dr. Barzilai writes:

"Many centenarians pass the hundred-year mark almost effortlessly. Whereas most people are ill for an average of five to eight years prior to death, centenarians tend to maintain most of their abilities and are ill for only about five to eight months before their deaths. ... Many of them have some limitations... But the major diseases are delayed, and at the age of their retirement, many of them were not seeing a doctor and had no medical expenses."

Why do these folks live longer? Dr. Barzilai writes, "for most people, genetics are responsible for about 20 - 25 percent of aging and the environment is responsible for the rest. But the statistics are vastly different for centenarians, whose genes are about 75 - 80 percent responsible for how they age and the environment accounts for only about 20 percent." In other words, the older you get, genetics play a more important role; in fact, "strong data suggests that exceptional longevity runs in families..."

However, Dr. Barzilai pointed out during his talk that we can do things that will have a very positive environmental impact on aging, such as (not surprisingly) exercising and maintaining a sensible diet. One of the great benefits of exercise, for instance, is that is strengthens our immunity and helps prevent disease. It is also extremely helpful to stay vital and engaged. Dr. Barzilai shared a video of a 105-year old man who literally never retired -- he continued to gain satisfaction and stimulation from going to work every single day until his death a few years later.

Some day, medical science is likely to provide a big boost to longevity. In the mean time, we can look at centenarians as proof that no one is "too old" to live a healthy, productive life.

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When We Get There, the Future will be Ours

Musings Pair-2914879_1920It's easy for Boomers to be discouraged and pessimistic right now, but keep your eye on the future. It will be ours.

How can I be so sure? It's all about statistics:

  • The U.S. Census Bureau reported in June that those in the 65-plus age group in the U.S. grew by a hefty 34.2 percent over the past decade, and by 3.2 percent from 2018 to 2019.
  • The U.S. Census Bureau projected that by 2034, there will be 77 million people 65 years and older in the U.S. vs. 76.5 million people under the age of 18 -- marking the first time in history older people will outnumber children.
  • The World Population Prospects 2019 report published by the United Nations indicates that 1 in 11 people in the world were over age 65 in 2019, but 1 in 6 people in the world will be over age 65 by 2050. According to the report, "Virtually every country in the world is experiencing growth in the size and proportion of older persons in their population." Further, the report states, "Throughout most of the world, survival beyond age 65 is improving."
  • Wharton professor Mauro Guillen, author of the just published book, 2030: How Today's Biggest Trends Will Collide and Reshape the Future of Everything, told NextAvenue's Richard Eisenberg, "the number of people over sixty is growing everywhere in the world. By 2030, they will become the largest consumer market segment for the first time in history."

What this means is that we -- Boomers -- own the future.  But the reality of an aging population has not yet been acknowledged, as it should be, by any part of our society, whether it's state and federal governments, employers, industries that serve the country, or marketers of goods and services.

We can help shape what that future will look like by exerting the power of our demographic slice of the United States. We can advocate for ourselves and for Boomers in general. We can vote for politicians we believe will not put our old age in jeopardy. We can ask and, if necessary, demand that ageism be abolished once and for all.

Mauro Guillen talks about a bright future for Boomers: In his NextAvenue interview, he suggests that employers will be much more interested in hiring seniors for part-time jobs and that the gig economy will benefit Boomers. He believes intergenerational collaboration will become more common. He thinks technology will become increasingly important in helping an aging population deal with the challenges of growing older. My conclusion is that government and industry will have to serve an older population because an older population will be the majority.

There is power in numbers -- and in the not too distant future, the numbers will be in our favor. 

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Technology is Our Best Frenemy

Musings Samantha-borges-EeS69TTPQ18-unsplashOne notable side effect of the coronavirus pandemic for Boomers has been our increased use of technology as a direct result of the increase in isolation. I've witnessed this in my own life as well as hearing about similar experiences from family and friends. I consider myself someone who keeps up pretty well with technology, but in the past several months, I've used technology in new ways, including:

  • Organizing Zoom calls with family members who are scattered across the country
  • Taking an online class at my local OLLI college for seniors, also via Zoom
  • Attending music concerts online
  • Ordering groceries online through an app for home delivery
  • Making extensive use of self-checkout when I was ready to go into a grocery store
  • Ordering takeout food online from local restaurants
  • Using "Apple Pay" to avoid swiping a credit card
  • Having my first telehealth session with a physician
  • Joining in a Zoom discussion with other seniors from around the country about the pros and cons of telehealth.

On the positive side, if you have a decent Internet connection and a trustworthy digital device, remote interconnectivity can literally be a lifesaver. When you can't travel to visit your kids or grandkids in person, you can at least have a conversation, see them smile and hear them laugh. When you don't want to linger in grocery aisles, you can get someone else to do the shopping for you (at a higher price). When you fear attending meetings, taking classes, or even going to work, it's comforting to know there is a reasonable alternative. For example, I thought the senior class I took online was excellent, and I'm looking forward to taking courses again in the Fall.

On the other hand, technology isn't always intuitive, nor is it foolproof. The audiovisual quality can vary, technology glitches can occur and some experiences are less than satisfactory. I learned, for instance, that it takes a lot longer to add things to a digital grocery cart than I realized -- and if the shopper assigned to your order can't find an item you want, you have to be available to quickly pick an alternative. Now that's pressure! I also found out that telehealth wasn't all I had hoped it would be: My doctor's appointment was delayed for 45 minutes because previous patients were having problems connecting with or using the telehealth platform. While it was great not having to drive to the doctor's office and be exposed to others in the waiting room, I still had to wait!

This pandemic has made me realize how lucky we are to have technology that can help us do things without the risk of physical, personal contact -- and how unlucky we are that we must sacrifice the physical, personal contact to which we had become accustomed. I guess that's why I consider technology a Boomer's best "frenemy." 

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