The future is a (baby) booming place, visionary says

“We’re larger, we’re stronger, we’re healthier,” Richard Adler says. (Photo by Irwin Block)
“We’re larger, we’re stronger, we’re healthier,” Richard Adler says. (Photo by Irwin Block)

“We’re larger, we’re stronger, we’re healthier,” Richard Adler says. (Photo by Irwin Block)

Never trust anyone over 30, we were told in the forever-young 1960s.

Now that the Baby Boomer generation is pushing into their late 60s and early 70s, a well-known futurologist took a look at where we are heading and came up with some fascinating conclusions.

Richard Adler, a distinguished fellow at the Institute for the Future in Cupertino, California—home of Apple—shared his findings at a recent public meeting hosted by the Cummings Centre discussing the big stories over the next decades.

Extended capacity. Boomers are in the process of extending their capacity to work, play and create. Credible studies indicate a steady decrease in the prevalence of disability in the older population since 1985.

“We’re larger, we’re stronger, we’re healthier, we’re living longer, and much less prone to many kinds of diseases. It is a result of better health care, nutrition, exercise, and our awareness. It’s what one scholar calls our ‘socio-technical evolution’.”

The encore stage. Marc Freedman, author of Prime Time: How Baby Boomers Will Revolutionize Retirement and Transform America, has identified the end of middle age and the beginning of retirement or old age, as an “unstable stage that has no name, no clear beginning and an end, no rights or routes of passage.”

“We need to create a new stage of life which is called the ‘encore stage,’ characterized by purpose, contribution and commitment, particularly to future generations … going from success to significance,” Freedman says.

Another writer calls the early 60s to late 80s “Adulthood II.”

Adler says, “It’s about doing what means something to you, and that’s the privilege of this later stage of life. We can take a longer view, have a chance to reflect and reinvent.”

Self-help. While this has been a boomer preoccupation throughout their lives, Adler posits that over the next decade self-help values and practices will be reinvented in such traditional aging issues as health, housing, finance and the environment.

“You don’t have to do it by yourself,” he said, stressing the sense of community he saw in a tour of the many activities at the Cummings Centre.

And there are plenty of self-help sites online, such as Patients Like Me, founded in 2004, where people with various health issues share information on one platform.

“Shared information on this site got the medical community to recognize the reality of chemofog—post-chemotherapy cognitive impairment.”

Virtual villages for seniors is another innovation. One of them, called Old-Up (“plus si jeunes mais pas si vieux”) is for those 75 and older.

“Their goal is to remove the barriers to continued involvement by seniors in all kinds of activities,” Adler notes.

Reinstitutioning. This involves creating institutions “that leverage collective identities to meet individual needs.”

The model is a “Starbucks for seniors, where you can drop in for a coffee, decide to take an exercise class or listen to a lecture.”

There are housing facilities in California for artistic seniors who want to continue to be creative, for Chinese Americans who want to live in their culture, separate housing with shared common space for meals and senior residences built around greenhouses.

Lifelong learning is being reinvented in institutions and online, and courses in many fields are offered from some of the world’s top universities at MOOC (Massive Open Online Courses).

“The old model of retirement is work, work, work hard, then go find a beach and have an endless vacation. The new model is people with hard hats on, doing good work.

“It’s up to each of us to figure out what’s the garden we can cultivate, what’s the contribution we can make.

“The positive aging movement is about opportunities for growth.”

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