Age & Reason
How Aging Is Becoming (Surprise!) Sexy
Thursday, January 26, 2012 - 11:15am
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What was most remarkable about last week’s Golden Globe Awards in Hollywood – that impossibly trendy and ever-cool mecca of glitz and youth – was the age of so many of its winners. Best director: Martin Scorsese, age 69. Best actress: Meryl Streep, age 62. Best supporting actress: Jessica Lange, age 62. Best screenplay: Woody Allen, age 76. Best supporting actor: Christopher Plummer, age 82. Then there was the lifetime achievement award given to the vital and ever-present Morgan Freeman, age 72.

 

With the world’s over-60 demographic segment exploding, markets everywhere are energized. The over-55 audience has $3.4 trillion dollars’ worth of annual buying power, and Hollywood wants a piece of it. But in rewarding and showcasing those over 55, Hollywood is also at the cutting edge of “active aging.” Even retired Senator Chris Dodd, sitting among the beautiful Hollywood set with his ever-so-staid inside-the-beltway tuxedo, is, it develops, not retired at all, but still active at age 66 as president of the American Motion Picture Association.

 

It's a lesson that all America, and the world, must learn. There is expansive economic potential if we can keep aging workforces active – people who would also be best positioned to meet the needs of aging baby boomers’ economic demands. They’re far trendier than their parents, and they’re allergic to anything that will make them feel old. Enter the opportunity for products that suit their aging needs without sounding “senior” alarms. Way outside of Hollywood, markets everywhere are responding.

Example 1: The pill-holder. This device is perhaps the most unsexy tell-tale accessory of aging. But given its critical function, it’s something many can’t do without. So the start-up company Sabi has decided to give it a facelift. According to founder Assaf Wand, boomers weren’t ready to advertise to the world that they had arthritis or back problems. He and his design team created a line of products that serve boomers’ needs without making them look and feel old. Wand believes that the product line will also appeal to younger generations who have a need to take medications but who don’t want to feel like their grandparents.

Example 2: Partner robots. Many of these are from the innovations of Joe Coughlin’s MIT Age-Lab. But there’s also Japan-based Toyota Motors, which is developing partner robots to help the aging with household chores and needs. This is not at all surprising, since Japan – where the over-60 population is projected to reach almost 40 percent by 2050 – is looking to offer innovative solutions for its “silver society.”

 

With the exploding demand for long-term care as one of its most serious economic and fiscal challenges, the government of Japan is leading not just in innovative technology, but in the global policy arena. Just four days after all those 70- and 80-year-olds made their mark in Hollywood – proving to the world that aging in our new century can have a fresh and exciting meaning – over in Geneva at the World Health Organization’s executive board meeting, the Japanese sponsored a resolution calling on the global community to “strengthen non-communicable disease (NCDs) policies to promote active aging.” With the oldest population on the planet, Japan understands that it’s not enough for the likes of a Streep, Sorcese or Plummer to be active well past the older definition of retirement. No, they get that in our current era we must profoundly transform aging for the broader population. Beating those NCDs – Alzheimer’s, cancer, diabetes and more – is an essential part of the game plan.

 

While Geneva policy wonks and Hollywood glitz don’t normally have much in common, it’s clear that for the most consequential issue of our time – transforming the planet’s aging populations from dependence and disability  to healthy and active economic growth contributors – is obviously one they do.

Executive director of the Global Coalition on Aging, Michael W. Hodin, Ph.D., is also managing partner at High Lantern Group and a fellow at Oxford University's Harris Manchester College.