Monday, January 25, 2016

Preparing for Retirement

Shana Lynch at the Stanford School of Business wrote a fascinating article, Six reasons to rethink aging and retirement, which was picked up by Quartz and relabeled Six ways we need to redesign retirement for our longer lives. Because really, there is a lot of design involved. 

Lynch quotes Laura Carstensen, the director of the Stanford Center on Longevity:

The culture we live in today, which evolved around lives half as long, does a pretty good job of supporting people up to 50, and then it stops. As we learn about aging, we’re finding that the malleability, the elasticity, the potential for people to age well is greater than ever previously imagined.

So how does Carstensen and others think we should redesign retirement and society to fit the Boomers? 

First change attitudes

1. Mental health does not fall off a cliff when we get old.
First we need to change our attitudes towards aging, Carstensen says "we need to stop conflating disease with aging; not everyone gets Alzheimers." I am learning that this is absolutely true.  Look around the web, Boomers are taking advantage of the new technology, to learn, communicate, to grow as individuals, to shop and to travel.

 2. Neither does physical health.
We need to take care of ourselves, but most of my generations does a good job of this aspect. We keep active, both mentally and physically and I (and I am sure others) bug their friends who are becoming too sedentary and we encourage them to exercise themselves mentally and physically.

3. We don’t need that much exercise (but we’re still not getting enough).
A friend of mine was told he needed knee surgery, light therapy, exercise and weight loss and swimming and  walking helped him to a point where he no longer needs surgery. I think he may eventually, but he is committed to a lifestyle that will keep him from the surgery for a few more years.  

Then redefine how long we have to work, how much we have to save and teach ourselves financial literacy

4. We have to work longer
5. We have to save more money
6. We need to redesign financial literacy
We used to live on average nine years into retirement. Soon we will be living on average 22 years after we stop working, yet almost nobody has put enough away. According to one study a third of us have little or no money put away for retirement. Retirement as a concept for most people no longer exists. It is either working or being among the unemployed. In my next few blogs I will look at if we are savings enough for retirement.

Then start to build liveable communities for seniors

7. We have to build walkable communities. 
In the 19th century, there were not a lot of life-extending drugs, but there was one very popular remedy: walking. Dickens walked 12 miles a day; Darwin did circuits around his property. According to Damon Young in the Guardian:

Every day, once in the morning and again in the afternoon, Darwin strolled and reflected amongst the privet and hazel, often alongside his fox terrier. Darwin had a little pile of stones on the path, and he kicked one with each turn: some ideas were four-pebble problems.

Walking keeps, you fit, and unlike other sports, it gets you somewhere — to libraries, restaurants and doctors’ offices if you live in a community where you can do it. Instead, we force our seniors to drive until we trap them in their houses.

8. We have to rethink design for ageing in place.
I'm going to get in trouble for this because it's counter to the accepted wisdom. Read any article about ageing in place, and you find wide halls, giant bathrooms that you can swing a wheelchair around in, all in big ranch-style homes with one floor living. Look at Houzz on aging in place and you will see 156,825 photos of bathrooms as big as some tiny houses. You will find elevators in multi story homes and fit people using them. Everybody’s aging-in-place house is getting bigger and wider and farther from the neighbours, with bigger garages to accommodate wheelchair vans. Yet according to Carstensen, "Today most people believe that although we’re living more years, those later years are in poor health. The reality is, most of these extra years are healthy ones." Only a small percentage of our ageing home-owners will need those expensive, space-eating features, while the rest just need some exercise. 

 If you go to New York City, you will find thousands of 85-year-old ladies climbing three flights of stairs and shopping with their bundle buggies. They claim that those stairs, and the walk to the bodega, keep them healthy. In fact, we need to bring people closer together, not spread them apart with ever-bigger bathrooms in bungalows. Climbing some stairs might not be a bad thing for some people, and it might keep them out of wheelchairs. (Isn't that better than designing our houses for living in wheelchairs?)

Isolation kills. Lack of exercise kills. Yet we seem to be designing our cities to maximize both. It's time for a redesign.

No comments:

Post a Comment