5 Lessons We've Learned about Aging in the Modern Age

By Kate Silver

This article originally published on GetOld

At 49, Sandy Koropp became a first-time business owner when she opened her own bookstore.

At 59, Joe Bates ran his first marathon and went on to run ultramarathons.

At 70, David Leinwand earned his master’s degree in history from New York University.

At 72, Keith Heller is sharing his love of art as a docent at Metropolitan Museum of Art.

In their 80s, Joyce Clarke and Roy Rieger found love.

These — and so many others — are stories that have been featured on GetOld. And while they’re all inspiring stories about challenging convention and starting new chapters, the stories are neither unique nor heroic. Rather, they’re extraordinary only in their ordinary-ness. That’s because all of them are a reminder of how aging in today’s world is changing for us all, as we live longer lives and have different expectations of retirement and fulfillment.

Whether you’re reading these stories or telling these tales yourself, here are five lessons we’re learning about aging today: 

You’ve only just begun. People are living happy, healthy and fulfilling lives into their 80s, 90s and beyond. Retirement — if that’s something you choose to do or are able to do — is an opportunity to explore the world. It opens up chances for travel, pursuing hobbies, focusing on your health, learning new skills and meeting new people. Today, people are deciding what they’re retiring “to,” rather than what they’re retiring “from.”

There’s work to be done, and older people are still interested in doing it. The concept of retirement is now fluid, with people choosing to go in and out of it, at will. According to a RAND Corporation survey on “The American Working Conditions,” more than 50 percent of people 50 and older who weren’t working and weren’t searching for work stated that they would, indeed, work in the future if the right opportunity came along. That’s good for the economy, and it’s also good for older workers, who are continuing to find connection and meaning through work.

Generations are mixing like never before. One office could be home to two, three or even four generations of workers, and they can all share talents and even mentor one another. The baby boomer generation has the experience and emotional intelligence that millennials and Gen Z can learn from, for example, while Gen Z and millennials may have tech skills they can share with the older generations. By encouraging mutual mentorship in the workplace, every generation can learn, grow and break down stereotypes.

Older people create big opportunities for businesses. In 2029, all Baby Boomers will be 65 or older, which means that 20 percent of the US population will be 65 or older, according to the United States Census. That group has a lot of spending power, and businesses know it. Today, you can find senior-centric cruises, furniture and home design that takes into account the needs of older people, cell phones designed for seniors, innovative care centers designed for older adults and more.

Grandparents play an important family role. More and more grandparents are caring for their grandchildren. According to the U.S. Census, in 2012, 6 percent of children lived in a household maintained by a grandparent. That’s double the number who lived in such a household in 1970. Grandparents who aren’t living in multigenerational homes still chip in quite a bit. According to research by University of Chicago, 60 percent of grandparents provided some kind of childcare over a 10-year period, with 70 percent of them providing care for two years or more. That can be a huge help to stressed parents who need help filling their childcare gaps.

Access to information, improved healthcare and advancing medical technology has helped reshape and extend lives. And those lives continue to make an impact on society, in the workplace and in the home. In this century, getting older is an opportunity to gain wisdom, experience and make an impact, whether you’re running your first marathon, offering a helping hand to your grandchildren or simply reflecting on it all in your own time.

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