It’s time to Disrupt Aging

AARP is changing the conversation about what it means to grow older.  We need to change the conversation because a demographic revolution is disrupting the way we age.

  • Here in the U.S., 10,000 people a day are turning 65—a trend that will continue for the next 14 years.
  • Over the next two decades, the number of people age 65 and older will nearly double to more than 72 million—or 1 in 5 Americans.
  • By 2050, people 60 and older will outnumber children 15 and under for the first time in history.
  • The fastest growing age group is people 85+; the second fastest is people 100+.

Today, because of increased longevity and generally better health, we have opportunities for continued productivity and growth our parents and generations before us never had.

The good news is that the way people are aging is changing, mostly for the better.  The bad news is that many of our beliefs and perceptions of aging have not changed, nor have our solutions for supporting people as they age.

Jo Ann Jenkins, AARP CEO, launched the nationwide conversation in her groundbreaking book, Disrupt Aging: A Bold New Path to Living Your Best Life at Every Age. She made changing the conversation around what it means to get older a priority.  It’s not about aging—it’s about living.

AARP is giving people the opportunity:

  • To embrace aging as something to look forward to; not something to fear;
  • To see it as a period of growth, not decline;
  • To recognize the opportunities, not just the challenges; and, perhaps most importantly,
  • To see themselves and others as contributors to society, not burdens.
  • Our ability to live longer, healthier, more productive lives is one of mankind’s greatest accomplishments. Yet, we don’t see it that way. We often view it as more of a problem than an accomplishment. The negative stereotypes of aging are so ingrained in our psyches, they are difficult to overcome. Most of us don’t even try.
  • We either just accept the old stereotypes and live out the negative image of aging—or, we deny that we are aging, and fight it with every fiber of our being. If you go to the Google search bar and type “I lie about my BLANK.” The first word that pops up is “age.” We are a society obsessed with age.

People 50 and older today face distinct challenges and have different goals than people in their 30s and 40s.  We’re at a different place in our lives, and we’re motivated by different things.

Because of our life experiences, we see the world through a lens shaped by experiencing the ups and downs of life, by the wisdom gained from those experiences, and by the comfort that comes from having a better understanding of who we are as individuals and what we want from life.

It’s not our own aging we need to fight against, it’s the ageist attitudes and perceptions that permeate our society and which play such a huge role in shaping our culture. Today, it is socially unacceptable to ignore, ridicule, or stereotype someone based on their gender, race, or sexual orientation.  So why is it still acceptable to do this to people based on their age?

Aging is not a problem any more than living is—it’s a human experience, a natural part of life.  If you think about it, many of the issues we face as we grow older have very little to do with age or youth.

They evolve around life’s experiences, and our life experiences at 50 or 60 or 70 are much different than they are at 20 or 30 or 40.  And, that’s the way it should be.

Experience matters.  It has value and helps define who we are and the contributions we make to society at any age.

Louisville’s Muhammed Ali once said that people who see life the same way at 50 that they did at 20 have wasted 30 years of their lives.  In today’s world, we might add that people who see life at 80 the same way they did at 50 have also wasted 30 years.

AARP does not pretend that we aren’t affected by the aging process—we are. But it’s time we put aging in the proper perspective.  We’re all moving along life’s continuum.  We can’t go back or stay where we are even if we wanted to—and most of us don’t want to.

But we can’t allow society—whether it be the media, advertisers, or popular culture—to delude us into thinking we can or should want to stay young.  That leads to a sense of self-denial about who we are and where we are in life, and ultimately, a feeling of despair and hopelessness.

Staying vital, on the other hand is something we can all achieve.  In fact more and more of us are achieving it every day. We like where we are.  We’re looking forward to the years ahead.  We are not looking back longingly on days gone by.  We’re connecting with more people in more meaningful ways through technologies. We’re committed both to family and energized by work.  We don’t have to make a choice.  We can— and should—have both.

We are caregivers—whether as adult children caring for older parents, parents taking care of children, or as grandparents taking care of grand kids, or as some combination of all of these. We are volunteers and philanthropists.  We are leaders in our communities, supporters of our churches, helping hands to our neighbors and friends.

We are a generation of makers and doers who have a desire to continue exploring our possibilities and to celebrate discovery over decline.  We seek out opportunities and grab hold of them when we find them.

People 50 and older are still living in ways that reflect the attitudes, activism and aspirations of the boomer generation.  That optimism—that desire to live life on our own terms, to make a difference, to change the world—is very real. It confirms my belief that no one’s possibilities should be limited by their age and that experience has value.

This change is long overdue.  Change the conversation and you change the reality.

To start, there are three areas where change is most needed, for individuals and in our society: health, wealth and self.

First, we need to begin to focus on physical and mental fitness instead of diminishment—on preventing disease and improving well-being instead of just treating ailments.  We need to help people feel empowered to become an active partner in their health care instead of being a dependent patient.

Second, we also need to understand that it’s about having financial resources so you don’t outlive your money.

An active, engaged, employed older population has the potential to be more of an economic boom than a social challenge. The growing number of older people is not a drain on society, but a key driver of economic growth, innovation and new value creation.  Many corporations, entrepreneurs and small businesses are finally beginning to realize this.

Third, we must change the way we view ourselves—from aging as decline to aging as continuous growth.  Many older people feel cast aside.  It’s important that they develop a sense of purpose and positive self-image.

The goal is to gain confidence in navigating life transitions—and see ourselves as integral parts of society—rather than being isolated from society.

AARP’s effort is to help accomplish these goals.  By focusing on health, wealth and self, Disrupt Aging, will begin to alter the mindset around aging.

Disrupt Aging is a rallying cry to create a new vision of living and aging in the 21st century.  Our new vision is of a world in which aging is not about decline; it’s about growth.  It doesn’t present only challenges; it creates new opportunities. And older people are not burdens; they are contributors.

When we disrupt aging and embrace it as something to look forward to instead of something to fear, we can begin to discover our real possibilities for becoming the person we always wanted to be and build a society where all people are valued for who they are, not judged by how old they are.

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