It’s Not Your Father’s Old Age!

This article originally appeared in “The Power of Ideas: A Collection of Insights to Transform the Future,” The Milken Institute, April 2015.

Jo Ann Jenkins, AARP's CEO, was a featured speaker at the Milken Institute's Global Conference.

Our ability to live longer, healthier and more productive lives is one of mankind’s greatest accomplishments. Most people turning 50 today can expect to live another 30-plus years, most of it in relatively good health. That’s more time than they spent in childhood, in adolescence, and for many, it’s more time than they spend working.

Yet, research shows that most people view aging as a process of deterioration, dependency, reduced potential, family dispersal and digital incompetence. As a result of these deeply ingrained, negative attitudes, people view the process of aging as something to fear and fight against, rather than a continued period of growth that brings new opportunities for individuals and society.

We have to change that perception. We desperately need to disrupt aging. As we approach a time when people over 65 will outnumber children under 15 for the first time in history, let’s change the conversation in this country around what it means to get older. It’s really not about aging; it’s about living.

Disrupting aging begins with each of us owning our age — feeling good about where we are in life. We don’t want to be defined by our age, any more than we want to be defined by race or sex or income or by outmoded expectations of what we should or should not do at a certain age.

Disrupting aging is not about clinging to our youth. We’ve all seen those ads on TV and in magazines — “50 is the new 30,” or “60 is the new 40.” That may sound nice, but as someone who was born in 1958, I don’t agree.

For one, we face different challenges and goals than people in their 30s and 40s. We’re motivated by different things. We see the world through a lens shaped by the ups and downs of life and the wisdom gained from those experiences. I am a more purposeful person because of the experiences and wisdom those years have brought me, and more and more people are discovering the same thing.

Disrupting aging is recognizing that 50 is not the new 30; 50 is the new 50. It’s not wishing we were younger, it’s redefining what it means to be our age. It’s also about building innovative systems that serve the new wants and needs of people as they age.

AARP Life Reimagined — Take the first step to a better you »

I think there are three areas where this is really important — I refer to these as health, wealth and self.

For health, we need to begin to focus on physical and mental fitness instead of diminishment, on preventing disease and improving well-being instead of just treating ailments. We need to help people feel empowered to become active partners in their health care instead of being dependent patients.

Wealth doesn’t mean becoming rich beyond your wildest dreams. It does mean having financial resilience to not outlive your money. We must work to demonstrate that an active, engaged, employed older population has the potential to be more of an economic boom than a social challenge — that the growing number of older people is not a drain on society, but a key driver of economic growth, innovation and new value creation.

Corporations, entrepreneurs and small businesses are finally beginning to view the aging population as an opportunity — a growing market for goods and services, a pool of untapped talent and resources, and a driving force behind economic and social innovation — instead of an unaffordable cost and financial burden.

And when we change the conversation from “unaffordable costs and financial burdens” to “opportunity” — and we change the reality to be more of an “economic boon” than a “social challenge”— that’s disrupting aging.

For self, we must change the conversation from aging as decline to aging as continuous growth. We must help people go from feeling useless to having a deep sense of purpose and positive self-image.

If we can help people gain confidence in navigating life transitions and feel as though they are an integral part of society instead of being isolated from society, that, too, is disrupting aging.

Fortunately, the movement to disrupt aging has already begun. As the boomers move into their 50s and 60s, they are disrupting aging as they have every other phase of life they have passed through.

At AARP, we truly believe that age and experience can expand life’s possibilities for every member of our society. When we disrupt aging and embrace it as something to look forward to, rather than something to fear, we can begin to discover the real possibilities for becoming the person we’ve always wanted to be and build a society for all where people are valued because of who they are, not judged by how old they are.

Also of Interest


See the  AARP home page for deals, savings tips, trivia and more.

Search AARP Blogs

Related Posts
December 11, 2018 10:07 AM
In an election year filled with partisanship and political fights, it’s no surprise that many Americans feel that their voices aren’t being heard or that the issues that affect their lives aren’t being addressed. But, many outstanding elected officials work hard every day to make a positive difference for their constituents.  That’s why AARP recognizes state legislators, governors, and other elected officials – from both sides of the aisle – who have stepped up and worked together to write, support, and advance common-sense policies that help older Americans remain in their homes and communities and retire with confidence. AARP is proud to announce our fifth annual bipartisan class of Capitol Caregivers, who fought this year to increase support for family caregivers and their loved ones, along with our fourth annual bipartisan class of Super Savers, who championed policies that enhance retirement security.
December 05, 2018 01:06 PM
Caroline is a mother of two children and a preschool teacher who unexpectedly became a family caregiver for her father after he suffered a major stroke. Her father, Tom, now deceased, lost the use of his right side and his ability to speak. Multiple surgeries and rehabilitation treatments later, he was able to live at home with the help of nurses. But it was up to Caroline to provide daily care, such as overseeing appointments and handling certain nursing responsibilities, like managing his medications. “I became the person my father could rely on more than anyone in the world,” Caroline said. “I became his safe place and his best friend.” In communities across the country, family caregivers like Caroline are caring for older parents, spouses and other loved ones, helping them to remain at home – where they want to be. Their tasks are done out of love and commitment, but are not easy. That’s why AARP is fighting for family caregivers and their loved ones in every state. In 2018, AARP advanced new policies to provide more help at home, flexibility at work, training, relief and more, which will benefit over 30 million family caregivers. Here are a couple highlights:
November 27, 2018 08:55 AM
A few months ago, I wrote a blog about the vital role that transportation options play in what we at AARP call “livable communities” – great places to live for people of all ages. Being able to get around is critical to earn a living, raise a family, contribute and stay connected to your community and enjoy life. And, having alternatives to getting behind the wheel of your own car is particularly important for older adults who want to stay in their homes and communities as they age.