Welcome to Louisville” boasted the signs on the streets when I arrived in Kentucky last month for the Louisville Innovation Summit: America’s New Frontier in Aging. I was invited to attend this first-ever summit and wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I had never visited Louisville. It was cold and blustery outdoors, but there was a warmth inside as the speakers revved up about the ‘tsunami of aging’ that will shift demographics in the U.S. and across the world during the next few decades. (According to the UN Population Division, 1 in 5 people in the U.S. are expected to be 65 or older by 2035. I will be in that group. Will you?*)
At first, it was scary thinking about the growth of the elderly population. A tsunami is very mammoth, very large, very overbearing. What will our ecosystem look like? What kind of healthcare will there be? How will we manage our well-being? How will technology impact our health and our homes? Will more and more people live to be 100 or greater than 100?
As the talks continued, my fears faded. I was jazzed by the University of Louisville Institute for Optimal Aging and its mission to expand the knowledge base for optimal aging. Go UL! Go UL! Go UL!
I was energized from speakers like Christine Costello of the Business Innovation Factory in Rhode Island, who shared research about transforming aging experiences through social connections. Christine mentioned the Golden Girl Network of shared housing for aging women.
“We need to design things around the lives people want to live,” said Christine. “We need to support people as they continue to navigate transitions, help people after widowhood, retirement, and other life-changing moments. We need to recognize elders as creators and innovators.” (It reminded me of why I enjoy blogging during my life after 50. It is a way for me to stay connected, share my wisdom and learn from other midlife women, building community both online and off.)
Keynote Paul Bennett, CCO of the design firm IDEO, described aging like a mountain: “First there’s the ‘all the things I’m going to be’ phase, then there’s the ‘enjoy the view’ phase when you’re on top, and as you age there’s the ‘all the things I’m never going to be’ phase.”
He spoke about extending the quality of human life. “How might design walk with us to the end of life?” said Paul. He shared his ‘7 Principles’ about design and positive aging and gave examples of companies and organizations that are doing it well. These are motivating principles we can all live by:
1. Champion agelessness. “How might we subtly accommodate changing needs but not think about aging?” said Paul. He mentioned the Nissan Cube, which is a best-selling car for an older person because the seats drop down making it easier to maneuver in and out of the car.
2. Lead with purpose. “Boomers have grown up with values about wanting to make a difference. Brands with meaning are growing with boomers,” said Paul. He noted Chipotle, which promotes food quality and natural ingredients in their quick serve restaurants. It is a popular spot for boomers. (I haven’t eaten at Chipotle, but I would like to try their salads sometime. My boyfriend L is a fan of Chipotle. He promised to take me there. Must make sure he keeps his promise.)
3. Focus on the positive. Paul shared how design was used to create a positive environment at Maggie’s Cancer Care Centres. Our surroundings are equally important to overall wellbeing, especially for those who are ill.
4. Be technologically respectful. Paul showcased the Raku-Raku phone in Japan that appeals to elderly people because it is easy to use. (I agree. I love my iPhone, iPad and iMac computer, but I am often overwhelmed by technology. I wish it would all slow down, but it seems like things are constantly speeding up. Soon I may literally be living the life of The Jetsons – wasn’t that a cartoon that I watched when I was a kid?)
5. Foster independence and interdependence. This principle is about being able to live on our own as we age as well as connecting people with their communities. Paul highlighted The Eldercare Orphanage in Iraq which brings together orphans with elders who act as grandparents. The elders have greater purpose and connection to the young. (When my daughter A was a toddler she was in childcare at a senior center. I always thought it was nourishing for both the seniors and the children.)
6. Support the journey. “I’m still growing and learning,” said Paul, adding that he had just turned 50 this year. (Perhaps we should change the word ‘retirement’ to ‘rediscovery’ during the second half of our lives. Since I retired from my 30 year corporate career, I feel like every day is a new discovery. Yes I do. Yes I do.)
7. Acknowledge the destination. Paul said this final principle is about leaving a legacy. “How might we say goodbye?” said Paul. “Acknowledge the end of life but live until you die,” he added, noting that some people are now creating legacy boxes, book of bequeaths, and video messages of their life.
Thank you to all the speakers for your helpful tips and principles. We cannot stop aging – so we might as well do it optimally. I intend to – how about you? Share your thoughts.
*Note: This statistic was found on the transgenerational.org website.