What will I do when I’m old?

Having worked in the aging services field for many years I am always struck by the lack of imagination when it comes to planning for a rapidly aging population. The articles and research papers I read typically focus on two areas, money and medical care.

Given that most older adults around the world live in their own homes and have adequate income to support themselves, the more important question seems to be, “what meaningful activities are older people going to engage in during the last stage of their life.”

In the US, the answer is always jobs. Everything will magically get better if more people have jobs . . . and work at them until they die. But the reality is that there are never enough jobs to provide full employment – even during boom times. And, not every older person wants to work at a job. If you were lucky enough to have found work you liked during the course of your life, you represent a small minority. Even doctors and lawyers are looking forward to the end of their stressful and increasingly unsatisfying careers.

So, after taking the cruise you always dreamed about, and making the obligatory pilgrimage to Paris, what’s left? What do you actually do with the next ten to twenty years of your life?

It would be unthinkable for someone, aged 20 to 40, to not be planning and actively pursuing relationships, a career, a home of their own, pleasure and growth – but what about those who are 70 to 90 and have already done these things. Are they supposed to start over at the beginning and live their life again – simply because we do not have the imagination to come up with anything different for them to do?

The sad fact is that too many older adults simply sit and watch life pass them by. Their days are empty, lonely and full of worry. They are increasingly invisible as individuals (other than being a burden). The most common thing they hear is “what are we going to do with all the old people?”  They hear this from the television pundits, they read it in the paper, they see it in their children’s and their grandchildren’s faces, they hear it whispered on the street.

We are at a turning point in human history.  Fewer jobs, fewer young people and more old people.  Our future demands an intelligent and creative evolutionary response.

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