the Aging of America be a Triumph or a Tragedy?
Friday, April 22, 2016
Comment: Many have noticed a glaring omission in the topics covered in
this latest political cycle and Ken Dychtwald, Ph.D. aims to correct that.
Today’s topic is the news so this week we’ll skip our regular ***news***
section and dive straight in.
Bullet: Will the Aging of America be a Triumph or a Tragedy?
Today’s LTC Bullet is coverage of Thursday’s press briefing by
Ken Dychtwald, Ph.D., called “Will the Aging of America be
a Triumph or a Tragedy?” For those of you who don’t already know, Ken
Dychtwald has been a leader in the field of gerontology and an age wave
savant for four decades. He is well-known as a prolific author and
effective aging activist, so when he announces a press briefing to discuss
our severe demographic challenges and what our news media and presidential
candidates should be doing to communicate and combat those challenges,
people tune in.
primary focus of the call was to discuss the demographic “age wave” which
is leading to the United States of America becoming a “gerontocracy” and
to look at the profound and myriad effects that will have on our country.
This is an unprecedented challenge we face and as such Dychtwald views
longevity as “humanity’s new frontier.” Is it all dire? No. There is
opportunity for humanity to triumph. In order to do so, we must first talk
about the issues. Unfortunately, even in this critical election cycle, our
politicians give short shrift to these issues and are not prompted enough
to talk about them by the news media. That’s a serious problem. What is
the solution? To hold this conference call “…to raise awareness of the
five aging-related transpartisan issues every presidential candidate must
address” and host the audio recording and transcript online at
What transpired was an engaging forty-two minutes dedicated to covering
those five critical issues:
- Issue # 1: What is the
new age of “old?”
- Issue # 2: The diseases
of aging could be the financial and emotional sinkhole into which the
21st century falls.
- Issue # 3: Averting a
new era of mass elder poverty
- Issue # 4: Ending ageism
- Issue # 5: The new
purpose of maturity
Each issue was thoughtfully described and carefully
delineated into five or six concisely presented questions for candidates
to answer. The hope is that they will. But if this content does not get
circulated to the people who ought to be thinking about, and can act on,
these issues, they won’t. Politicians don’t always effectively answer
questions they are asked; they certainly won’t answer questions they are
not. Please help the aging of America be a triumph by reading the
transcript or listening to the call and circulate this vital content.
follows is the press release for the conference call. Read it, but also
access the full transcript and an audio recording of the call at
Thank you to Ken Dychtwald and Age Wave for creating and making this
THE COMING “AGE WAVE” THAT PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES
NEED TO ADDRESS…BUT AREN’T
EMERYVILLE, CA, April 21, 2016. An age wave is coming that could either
make or break America. Yet the issue has received little attention in the
current presidential campaign.
When our Constitution was crafted, the average life expectancy in the U.S.
was barely 36 years, and the median age was a mere 16. In this regard, we
are living in truly uncharted territory and longevity is humanity’s new
frontier. As the baby boomers turn 70 at the rate of 10,000 a day, America
is becoming a “gerontocracy.” Already, 42% of the entire federal budget is
spent on Medicare and Social Security. And according to the Congressional
Budget Office, this will exceed 50% by 2030. In the 2012 election, older
adults out-powered all other age groups with 72% of men and women 65+
voting, while only 45% of those 18-29 did.
This demographic transformation will create new social contribution and
marketplace opportunities, as well as potentially devastating medical,
fiscal, and intergenerational crises. Are we prepared? No. Are the
candidates addressing this age wave and offering innovative solutions? No.
These are the questions being asked by Ken Dychtwald, PhD, author of 16
books on aging related issues and CEO of Age Wave. Based on his 40 years
of research, dialogue, and analysis, Dr. Dychtwald believes there are
five essential transpartisan issues that must be addressed if our
newfound longevity is to be a triumph rather than a tragedy.
Issue #1: What is the new age of “old?”
Our economy is hinged to 19th century notions of longevity and old age.
When Otto Von Bismarck picked 65 to be the marker of old age in the 1880s,
the average life expectancy in his country was only 45. Similarly, when
Social Security began, the average American could expect to live only 62
years, and there were 42 workers paying for each “aged” recipient. Today
life expectancy is approaching 79, and due to decades of declining
fertility, there are fewer than three workers to pay for each recipient.
And we have to ask, is 65—or even 67—the right marker of old age in the
21st century? As our demography continues to tilt older, the economic
impact of these numbers on working Americans will be massive. This is not
a Democrat or Republican issue. This is not an issue that only impacts
“seniors.” The designated age of “old” in the 21st century is a
demographic/social/economic issue that will affect us all. Left unchanged,
it will have a particularly brutal impact on the millennial generation.
Issue #2: The diseases of aging could be the financial and emotional
sinkhole into which the 21st century falls.
As a result of modern medical advances and public health infrastructure,
we’ve managed to prolong the lifespan, but we have done far too little to
extend the healthspan—with pandemics of heart disease, cancer, stroke,
Alzheimer’s, and diabetes. In addition to being quite costly, our
healthcare system is incompetent at preventing and treating the complex
conditions of later life. For example, Alzheimer’s (and related dementias)
now afflicts one in two people over 85, and it has become the nation’s
scariest disease. Unless there is a breakthrough, its sufferers are
anticipated to grow from 5+ million today to 15+ million, with its
cumulative costs soaring to $20 trillion by 2050. But our scientific
priorities are out of synch: for every dollar currently spent on
Alzheimer’s care, less than half a cent is being spent on innovative
scientific research. Our doctors are also not aging-ready. We have more
than 50,000 pediatricians, but fewer than 5,000 geriatricians. Only eight
of the country’s 145 academic medical centers have full geriatrics
departments, and 97% of U.S. medical students don’t take a single course
Issue #3: Averting a new era of mass elder poverty
According to the Government Accounting Office, roughly half (52%) of all
households near retirement (headed by someone age 55+) have NO retirement
savings and about half (51%) of our population have no pensions beyond
Social Security. We could be heading to a future in which tens of millions
of impoverished aging boomers will place crushing burdens on the U.S.
economy and on the generations forced to support them. On top of this, we
are not fostering financial literacy or responsibility among the young.
For example, 37 states require providing sex education to high school
students by law, while only 17 states require financial education.
Issue #4: Ending ageism
In Colonial times, elders were respected and honored for their wisdom and
experience. During the industrial era, all of that turned upside down.
Now, in our youth-focused society, many people of all ages are
gerontophobic—uncomfortable both with older adults and their own aging
process. And many institutions—from urban planning, to technology, to
employment hiring practices, to housing, to popular media (where
advertisers will pay networks far more for a 30-year-old viewer than one
who is 60) are both youth-centric and ageist. For example, our homes were
not built for aging bodies: less than 2% of our housing stock is built to
be safe and accessible for elders (and 1/3 of the elderly fall each year).
Issue #5: The new purpose of maturity
Today’s retirees feel they are in the best time in their lives to give
back. And they do: contributing both more dollars and volunteer time than
any other age group—doing everything from teaching schoolchildren to read,
to helping their peers recover from loss, to building homes for Habitat
for Humanity. Going forward, medical science will increasingly prolong
life. But political, religious, and community leaders have yet to create a
compelling vision for the purpose of those additional years. For example,
our 68 million retirees currently spend an average of 49 hours a week
watching television. Ultimately, the problem may not be our growing
legions of older adults, it may be our absence of imagination, creativity,
and leadership regarding what to do with all of this maturity, experience,
A letter is being sent to each major candidate asking them to
articulate their views on these five critical issues.
A written copy of Dr. Dychtwald’s views and a recording of his April 21
press briefing, including the specific questions on these issues that
he believes the candidates must address – with fact sheets and related
data and sources, can be accessed at
About Age Wave
Founded in 1986, Age Wave is a pioneer in the exploration of the impact of
the longevity revolution. Under the leadership of Founder/CEO Ken
Dychtwald, PhD, Age Wave advises businesses and non-profits worldwide on
the opportunities and challenges of an aging population.
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