We must drop 65 as a marker of ‘old age’

It’s been more than a decade since I first heard him speak on the changing demographics of aging. He was a young man but his wisdom was old.
For me, that speech was a life-changing event.
His name was Ken Dychtwald. And in my excitement, I imagined having him appear on a local speaker series. But almost at once, an insurmountable roadblock surfaced. His fee for a one-hour lecture was $20,000.
Now, you might say no one is worth that amount of money. And you might be right. But, on the other hand, that was just the starting point for Ken Dychtwald.
Currently, Dychtwald’s rate is advertised as $30,000-$50,000 per appearance–and he is in great demand. Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter calls him “today’s most innovative and original thinker” on the subject of aging.
He is a psychologist and a gerontologist, and has authored eight books on health and aging issues, including the best-selling “Age Wave.” But more important, Dychtwald is a futurist. And his latest book, “Age Power–How the 21st Century Will Be Ruled by the New Old,” is a wake-up call.
Dr. Dean Ornish describes “Age Power” as a book that will provide “a much-needed paradigm of old age as a period of health and vitality.”
There are two things significantly different about aging in the future. First, the numbers of chronologically old people will increase dramatically. And secondly, people will remain vibrant and productive to much later ages.
For these two reasons, our attitude toward aging must change! Dychtwald’s generation–the “baby boomers”–began hitting 50 in 1996. Their large numbers, combined with a declining birthrate, will change demographics far into the 21st century.
The U.S. Census Bureau projects that by 2035, there will be 70 million persons over 65 in the States–twice the current population of Canada. This compares to three million at the beginning of this century and 33 million today.
What’s more, these will be the “new old”–people with energy, good health, resources, influence, and motivation. People who are not ready for the back burner.
In the 1880s, when Chancellor Otto von Bismarck of Germany arbitrarily selected 65 as the age for retirement, it made sense. After all, life expectancy was 45 and few people would ever need the safety net.
What’s odd is that we hold on to and often enforce the retirement age of 65 more than a century later. Particularly since life expectancy has risen by 31 years and there are only 3.3 workers left for every retiree.
We must rethink retirement, says Dychtwald. “Using 65 as a marker of old age–and the onset of old-age entitlements–is meaningless, unfair, and even dangerous.”
It would, however, be devastating to older citizens to scrap benefits without providing equal opportunity for employment. Obviously, the very first step is to label age discrimination for what it is–as immoral and illegal as any other kind of discrimination–and then eliminate it.
Society will change because it must. But it will be slow. In the meantime, it’s up to each of us to take charge of our own individual futures.
So why not adopt a 21st-century view of aging today? And says Dychtwald, “Be prepared to reinvent yourself several times in adulthood.”
One by one, we can change the face of aging if we choose to.

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