Aging in 21st Century America

What people are looking for in aging is different than what it has traditionally been. American society needs to change several areas to make life more inclusive of older Americans. Many traditional beliefs about aging are no longer true. Many seniors don’t see aging in a negative manner; they are actually optimistic about aging. People in their 70s and 80s consider a longer life to be a positive thing. They enjoy having more time with friends and family, and many report being happy about the changes they see in life.

The medical establishment needs to evolve its definition of “good health”. It isn’t just that your kidneys and your liver and your heart are working well. To older Americans being in good health means being independent, mobile and of strong mind. You can have heart disease, cancer, diabetes and still consider yourself healthy, by these norms. The more the doctors acknowledge and support these goals, the better they can support their patients.

One of the hardest choices we ever face for ourselves or our ailing parents or other loved ones is whether or not they should undergo the next medical procedure or surgery. This is very important, and can impact their future quality of life. Quality of Life is more important to most older people than the length of their life.

The housing section should embrace people aging at home. Posh retirement communities in sunny areas of the country provide very elite homes. Studies shown that most Americans do not want to live in those locations, but would rather stay in their own homes as they age. (I, personally, want to live in a sunny climate — but then, that’s why I moved to North Carolina years ago.)

Unfortunately, few homes in the past were designed with older Americans in mind. They did not build multi-generational homes; homes that were equally accessible for the older and younger members of the family.

We need to be building what they are now calling “forever homes”. We can serve each generation in the family from the first nail.

In today’s economy and the future economy, we need to do a better job educating young adults about retirement finances. The typical life pattern has us working for some 40 years, then living for another 20 years — or more. It’s clear that we each need ample savings, yet too many young people are not saving enough for their retirement years.

We all want our retirements to be comfortable, but increasingly the younger generations – Generation X, Millennials and Generation Z alike – are unable to plan for any of the milestones that the Baby Boomers took for granted — college, buying a home, and finally, a pleasant retirement. As the economy worsens, and college and home costs continue to rise, it becomes more difficult for the next generations to see or plan beyond today. One medical emergency would be devastating for many people, wiping out what little savings they have.

Americans must help the next generations do better, while at the same time helping our aging population to thrive.

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