Last month, I had the privilege of touring the MIT AgeLab to gain insights into issues all of us face as the average life expectancy continues to increase. My guide was Joseph Coughlin, PhD who founded the AgeLab at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1999.
Unlike some research think tanks that only focus on retirement, the MIT AgeLab’s goal is to improve the future quality of our lives by improving people’s physical and financial health. They aim to achieve this through technological innovations, how products are designed, how services are delivered and how local and national policies are implemented. The AgeLab applies a multi-disciplined consumer-centered approach to imagine what tomorrow will look like for people 45 and older.
The research focuses on the challenges and opportunities of longevity which include topics such as:
- Health, caregiving, and well-being
- Stress and anxiety and its effects on decision-making
- Retirement and financial issues
- Lifestyle and demographic trends
- Cross-generational research
So how much longer are we living? If, like my grandfather, you were born in 1900, the average lifespan was 47 years in the US. Today in the US, life expectancy is over 80 years old. Those 85 and older, are the fastest growing part of our population. An unfortunate side-note is recent research in the US shows life expectancy temporarily stalling. This may be caused by declines in well-being, and an increase in alcoholism, opioid addiction and suicide. According to Steven Woolf and Landon Aaron, this trend was more apparent in lower-income populations (2018).
Researchers now suggest that half of the babies born today in the industrialized world will live to be 100 or more. Advances in sanitation, healthcare as well as public awareness of healthful behaviors all contribute to this positive trend.
With decades being added to our lives, we need to consider basic assumptions around retirement and “old age”. The World Health Organization now calculates the typical 60-year-old alive today (worldwide) can look forward to 20 more years of not only being alive but 20 more years of a healthy life without significant disabilities.
The effects of extended longevity and demographic realities are both amazing and daunting. Advances in technology, traditional and complimentary medicines, as well as new products and services will arise to meet the needs of our aging population.
In the MIT AgeLab, they talk about four 8000 day periods of our lives. The first 8000 days are between birth and college graduation that ends around age 22. This is called the “Learning Period”. It consists of important informal learning prior to the more formal learning in primary school, high school and college.
The second 8000 days are called the “Growing Period” that takes us from age 22 to mid-life at age 44. Between college and mid-life is when we start a career, possibly have a relationship and get married, own a home and have children. Millennials currently in this phase may be delaying marriage, kids and homeownership five to seven years in comparison to previous generations.
The third 8000 days from age 44 to 66 are called the “Maturing Period”. Characteristics in this period include prime career/earning years, buying more expensive house and cars, nicer vacations, welcoming grandchildren (remember to possibly add five to seven years due to the delays of the Millennials). This period concludes with retirement from our jobs.
The fourth 8000 days are called the “Exploring Period”. This goes from the retirement party at age 66 though life-expectancy of 88. These 8000 days is such a new phenomenon for humankind that characteristics are still being written. Traditional retirement ads include golf, grandkids and travel but now it’s so much more. My guess is you’ll start seeing kayaking, mountain-biking and yoga in some newer retirement ads. In my blog next quarter, I will expand upon this period “Exploring Period” more.
Lastly, I’d like to introduce you to AGNES. I have included a link to a YouTube video of the Try Guys wearing the AGNES suit, which was developed at the AgeLab, to get an idea of what it could feel like as we age.