02/19/2013 08:00 am ET Updated Apr 21, 2013

A New Song And Dance For The Aging

Apart from the blackout, it seems that the most memorable part of the Super Bowl was the commercial with the older people dancing, carousing and eating tacos. The advertisement's "night on the town" storyline is wholly unoriginal, but audiences apparently appreciate the ironic mismatch between actions (dancing, drinking, tattooing) and actors (older adults who have sneaked out of their retirement community).

It is dangerous to invest too much meaning into a commercial advertising 69 cent drive-thru tacos, but this ad captures the exact aging dynamic emerging around the world today. The "old" aren't aging as they traditionally have, and they're remaining more active and engaged in domains generally preserved for the young.

Yes, the disco and the post-midnight munchies stretch the new vitality of the aging to the point of absurdity, but that's how satire works. It takes things to their illogical extremes.

What is so interesting and significant about this commercial is just how impossible it would have been a short time ago. If audiences didn't realize or at least intuitively recognize that older people are writing new lives for themselves -- and remaining more active and engaged later into life -- then the satire would have failed. The humor of the commercial only works because it taps into something that we are watching happen. Indeed, aging in the 21st century is a whole new song and dance.

Part of this is cultural. Mick Jagger, Morgan Freeman, and supermodel Carmen Dell'Orefice, to name only a few, continue to dominate youth-obsessed industries. And that vitality trickles down. A new culture of aging is emerging, and the aging process itself is being re-invented.

The other part is medical. Aging has been transformed because of breakthrough medical innovations. A new report, "The High Costs of Low Vision," by the International Federation on Ageing proves the point. It claims, "Vision loss is no longer an inevitable part of the ageing process. Thanks to innovations in diagnosis, biomedicine, nutrition, technology, and preventive care, people can age with strong, healthy vision."

This is truly transformational. Throughout human history, vision loss has been part of the aging process. And this is changing. Indeed, the report notes that an incredible 80% of vision loss around the world can be prevented. On one hand, such high rates of preventable vision loss is a social, medical, and economic failure. Vision loss leads to isolation and dependency, and it strips years of active and productive life away from those who suffer from it. On the other hand, this rate of prevention also points to new promise. With the right policies in place, vision loss does not need to be a 21st century barrier to social and economic participation.

As the IFA's report discusses, the consequences of vision loss are both social and economic. Socially, those with vision loss are more prone to clinical depression as well as a host of other physical health ailments. Economically, the medical and caregiving costs are exponentially higher for those with vision loss compared to those with healthy vision. As dozens of countries around the world see the over-60 segment expand to 30% - 40% of the population, vision loss will become a public health and economic crisis if measures aren't taken to end preventable vision loss. The IFA report lists policy recommendations that prevent this outcome, and both health and economic policymakers would be wise to follow them.

In a few decades, the taco commercial that is generating so much buzz right now might no longer be funny. If aging populations continue to make the incredible inroads into the highest levels of social and economic life, then audiences may look at the commercial and say, "So what?" The most out-of-place element might be the unhealthy food they're eating or the gas-guzzling car they're driving. But to reach a future where older adults are integrated into all aspects of life, it is imperative to first ensure that they age in good health. There is perhaps no greater key to all this than strong, healthy vision.

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