January 23, 2012

USA: Growing old in the 21st century is not what is used to be

CHESTNUT HILL, Massachusetts /  Sloan Center on Aging & Work / January 23, 2012
Engaged As We Age
Meeting the Challenges and Opportunities Associated with Growing Old in America 
Growing old in the 21st century is not what is used to be.
The purpose of this project is to develop an ongoing, national study of aging that asks the broad question: What is the impact of multiple engagements — in continued work, in volunteer activities, in education and other learning activities, in care-giving for family members and friends—on the mental and physical health of older people?
The Engaged as We Age project will bring to Boston College a group of thought leaders interested in the opportunities and dilemmas of aging in the 21st century. Policy analysts/advocates, practitioners/employers, foundation representatives, and academics from several disciplines will participate in a facilitated conversation this fall to re-think the dominant paradigms of aging in America to be held this fall at Boston College. 

Overcoming Negative Perceptions of Aging
Over the past couple of decades, gerontologists have wrestled with ways to overcome outdated and mostly negative perceptions of growing older. Added years of longevity and health are unprecedented and represent opportunities for a variety of approaches to contentment, satisfaction, and even continued growth in later life.

Now the question is, how can we move beyond the idea of old age as a “roleless role”? How can we provide the optimal structure for maximizing opportunities for well-being and vitality. What do practitioners, employers, and policy-makers need to know in order to re-write the future of old age in America?
One of the responses to the old disengagement paradigms has been to focus attention on strategies to help individuals “age successfully.” Successful and healthy aging has often been interpreted as steps taken to avoid disease and disability, maintain mental and physical function, and continue engagement with life.
Another concept—“productive aging”—refers to “activities that produce goods and services, whether paid or not,” and focuses attention on the contributions that older adults make at work, in volunteer capacities, and with care-giving (either to spouses, parents, families members with disabilities, or grandchildren).
Considerations of “successful aging” and “productive aging” have challenged many old assumptions and expectations for the roles that older adults should/will assume. Despite the promise of these new paradigms, critics suggest that value labels such as healthy and productive aging imply that there is a “best way, an only way” to age well, and that people who develop a debilitating disease are “unsuccessful.” 
Some worry that efforts to get elder citizens to be more productive will undermine social programs like Social Security and Medicare, much needed supports especially for women and minorities. 
Furthermore, to date, there has been limited attention focused on the social and structural changes needed to facilitate “success” or “productivity.”

“If we are to promote productive aging, there is a need for enlarged public- and private-sector responsibility…we need to explore perceptions of the public and how they define productive aging, productivity, and older adult’s contributions” (Estes & Mahakian, 2001, p. 209).
Engaged as We Age (January 2012)
By Jacquelyn B. James, Elyssa Besen, Christina Matz-Costa & Marcie Pitt-Catsouphes
© 2012 The Trustees of Boston College
Credit: Reports and photographs are property of owners of intellectual rights.
Seniors World Chronicle, a not-for-profit, serves to chronicle and widen their reach.