Aging—a synonym for old, something that everyone is afraid of and tries to avoid at all costs.
However, it might be time to stop looking at aging as a horrible thing and start viewing it as a privilege and an opportunity. Robyn I. Stone, the Executive Director at LeadingAge and a noted researcher, spoke about the issue at the first Conference on Aging at Ferris. She believes that the increasing aging population is a problem that we can benefit from.
“We are in a very disruptive and innovative period,” Stone said. “For every problem, there is an opportunity for us. There are lots of opportunities to turn lemons into lemonade.”
These opportunities range from healthcare reform and transportation needs to infrastructure improvement and housing needs. The reason this is beginning to be problematic now is because people getting older is somewhat uncharted territory. According to Stone, two thirds of the people in human history who have ever reached age 65 are alive right now.
“Aging is a relatively recent phenomenon. We have people living longer and longer. We are living with a lot of chronic disease that would have killed people years ago,” Stone said.
According to the United States Census, from 2008 to 2012, there was a 120 percent increase in elderly people aged 65 and over. Compared with other age categories such as under 18 (35 percent increase) and ages 18 to 44 (32 percent increase), this is a sharp increase.
With more people celebrating birthdays, there brings a greater challenge in meeting each of their individual, cultural and medical needs.
“Not everyone looks at aging the same way,” Stone said. “Not every culture looks at death and dying the same way.”
The greatest need, according to Stone, is for young people to become leaders in finding solutions to these problems.
“We need to think about retirement reinvented. We want to figure out a way for people to live a healthy, happy and productive life,” Stone said.
Steve Nanasi, a Ferris senior nuclear medicine major, was pleased with the potential for visionaries.
“The need for leadership stood out to me most,” Nanasi said. “There’s a need for a new vision and a big need for guidance.”
Nanasi also stated that there was a “direct application” of this principle in relation to his leadership class that he is currently enrolled in.
The leaders of the cause, according to Stone, must be able to think of new ways to make retiring more affordable. According to Stone, one third of seniors live below the poverty line with many more relying on Social Security and Medicaid to help them get by.
“There are some serious economic issues that we will be seeing,” Stone said.
With issues come solutions, and Stone is optimistic for what the future holds when it comes to people getting older.
“Longevity is something to embrace and celebrate. These are the jobs of our future. This is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what the aging population can do for us,” Stone said.
For more information on Dr. Stone and aging, visit www.leadingage.org.