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Successful Aging: More fresh perspectives on longevity

Last week, we presented some new perspectives on longevity based on the work of Laura Carstensen, director of the Stanford Center on Longevity.

Carsten and her colleagues developed something called the New Map of Life that encourages us to make a “mind shift” in how we think about longevity. Its goal is to offer a new narrative of an aging society, from the crisis narrative of the “gray tsunami” to defining actionable steps that enhance the quality of longer lives. It envisions engineering an entire life course with at least 30 more years of vitality and engagement.

This new map of life is guided by 10 principles. We described the first five last week. Here are the remaining ones.

Learning throughout a lifetime: Getting a formal education prior to our working years was considered a one-time event before starting a lifetime job. That’s not the case today – or for those five-year-olds who will live to be age 100. The new map of life suggests we no longer will be front-loading education. Rather, the authors envision options for learning outside traditional formal education available to people of all ages and life stages so they can acquire the education they need. That learning experience will align with their individual needs, interests, abilities, schedules and budgets and will spread out through the life course.

Working more years with more flexibility: The New Map of Life predicts that within the 100-year life, we can expect to work 60 years. However, that may not be within the traditional 40-hour workweek. What is more likely is people will move in and out of the workplace, working from home periodically, taking paid and unpaid leaves for caregiving, education, health needs and other transitions that we cannot even predict at this time.

Starting early on financial security: Living to age 100 requires new opportunities and pathways to work, save and retire. The financial challenges of the 100-year life take into consideration today’s financial age-related challenges. Currently, more than half of Americans have little or no retirement savings. And we know that without Medicare and Social Security, one-third of older adults would live below the poverty line. The New Map of Life wants to create more opportunities to build financial security with an understanding of the social and economic trends and the upcoming realities.

Building longevity-ready communities: Where we live matters. Our physical environment affects longevity and the quality of life beginning before birth. The environmental opportunities and assets will determine the likelihood that “individuals will be physically active, whether they will be socially isolated or engaged and how likely they will develop obesity, respiratory, cardiovascular or neurodegenerative diseases.” The advantages and disadvantages accumulate over the life course.

Creating age-diverse communities is good for societies and the bottom line. The combination of the “olders” and “youngers” is a net gain; both contribute in different ways. Older people typically have the emotional intelligence, experience and wisdom from years of living that create new possibilities for families, communities and workplaces that have not previously existed. Younger people contribute speed, strength and zest for discovery according to the report. Today, we know that a multigenerational workforce drives innovation, problem-solving, productivity and more. The “changing mindset” is not to dwell on the costs of aging but rather reap the rewards of an age-diverse society.

Creating the needed change to maximize these 30 years is the big question. It is not the responsibility of any one entity. According to the report, building this new extended life is a shared responsibility among the government, the private sector, employers, healthcare providers and insurance companies. It will require the best ideas from the private sector, government, medicine, academia and medicine. The report says it is not enough to just think or reimagine this life. What’s important is to build and “build it fast.” The future of those five-year-olds is in our hands; it will require new policies, investments and a positive mindset to make the most of those 30 bonus years.

Let’s consider what we can do today in our communities, with family and friends to take advantage of the bonus years we currently are experiencing. Policies and programs count. However, it all begins with a belief that change for the good is possible and that we have a role to play, as family members, volunteers, elected officials, educators, voters and more. We all have the potential to be influencers and agents of change. Small changes add up.

Let’s all live long and well. And let’s spread those random acts of kindness.

Helen Dennis is a nationally recognized leader on issues of aging and the new retirement with academic, corporate and nonprofit experience. Contact Helen with your questions and comments at Visit Helen at and follow her on


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