It's the end of the year, and we all know what that means: time again for the bloated, thumb-sucking Year in Review listicles. Woo hoo. This year, even the brainier publications are whiffing spectacularly. In the Economist's usually-pretty-good annual financial summary, nowhere does one find meaningful analysis of population aging -- one of the 21st century's most significant social, political, and economic developments. A mega-trend if there ever was one.
2014 was no slouch year, either. Over the past 12 months, one has seen a spectacular confluence of ideas, events and initiatives that demand fresh, thoughtful attention. So to the Buzzfeed-esque lists that cap the year - and effectively write the history of 2014 - let's add these five developments:
- Life is worth living after 75. In October, Ezekiel Emanuel caused a stir with his Atlantic essay, Why I Hope to Die at 75. In the piece, Emanuel offers an admittedly provocative case for death at 75, but he also showed impressive lack of imagination in spelling out the social and economic reasons for ending it all at 75. His argument assumes that life at 75 becomes more burden than benefit, and it discounts all the medical, technological and consumer innovation that is still yet to come. Unlike Emanuel, I'll put my money on innovation and our inexhaustible ability to improve the human condition. In 2015, look for new opportunities for the aging to stay socially and economically productive in the burgeoning Silver Economy; and bet on new medical and technological developments to keep seniors out-and-about and reinventing what it means to age in the 21st century. And look too for developments for the "oldest old" as we further enable aging-at-home. Care may seem like an odd bedfellow for innovation, but we're seeing more and more, how new, better models can be developed.
- New technologies, new possibilities. A year-end review wouldn't be complete without some fawning adulation of technology. But considering new ideas that emerged with technologies like Google Glass, bring on the clichés. Last spring, a collection of thought leaders in aging, tech, health and Alzheimer's got together to discuss how Glass (as the cognoscenti in Google call it) could become a "prosthetic" for the brain -- prompting names through facial recognition, giving directions with the GPS function, calling up grocery lists, to-do lists, and other reminders for early-stage Alzheimer's victims. It's a potentially dramatic development, one that could help rewrite the possibilities of life with Alzheimer's. Because, to be fair, if Emanuel is right on any level, it's that Alzheimer's is the great asterisk on the "miracle of longevity." And tech may prove to be secret ingredient.
- Obamacare is political economics, not healthcare. The long, boring debate over Obamacare is only marginally about healthcare. It's mostly about who pays for what and for whom. It's about dollars, cents and promissory notes. It's an underwriter hiding behind a hospital gown. In 2014, we missed the mark. In 2015, let's reframe the conversation to get what is really at the heart of the issue in healthcare: how to keep an aging population healthy, and how to manage sustainably the growing swell of innovative (and costly) medicines and procedures. This debate draws attention to a peculiarly 21st century problem: we have come to expect these "miracles" in innovation, but we are loathing to pay for them. As the population ages, policymakers must avoid the red herrings.
- Retirement has got to go. New mounds of data turned up in 2014 that show that more and more employees simply do not want to retire at 65. There is, of course, the ever-increasing financial complexity of managing lives that stretch to 90 and 100, but it has become clearer that the matter isn't simply financial -- it's also personal. Research by both Merrill Lynch and TransAmerica Research Center finds that the bulk of people reaching "retirement age" want to keep working and contributing. But the workplace isn't keeping up. Policies and programs are still in place that assume 20th century norms, not 21st century needs and desires. In 2015, it's time to seriously re-think retirement, and employers, financial advisors and others will need to guide the conversation. At an individual level, we've moved on. At an organizations level, we're lagging behind. Our lives stretch beyond our policies and traditions -- and it's time to reconcile the two.
- Active aging is achieved through preventive healthcare. During 2014, we made strides to keep people healthy and active into their 70s, 80s and 90s. And the dialogue broadened beyond the well-known health problems like Alzheimer's, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Now, we're seeing that we can prevent (and treat) things that have been long considered "natural" parts of aging, such as deteriorating skin or vision. During 2014, there was a first-of-its-kind summit in Manchester, UK, one of the preeminent Age-Friendly Cities on the planet. At the summit, aging and skin experts came together to design solutions for a healthier life course of skin. Stay tuned on this one, as it will have huge impact for all one billion of us over 60.
As we conclude 2014, it is imperative to keep sight of the transformational developments with population aging. We are gaining tremendous momentum from individual families all the way up to the G8 and OECD. We mustn't lose steam.
It's been a good year. Now let's have a great 2015.