weekly blog--one for the ages
Researchers at Harvard's Business School recently issued a paper making the compelling case for stopping the issuance of high denomination notes like the $100 bill, claiming that they provide a "boon to corruption and crime."
I have a better idea. Why not simply replace the portrait of Ben Franklin on the $100 bill with a centenarian to remind people that the face of aging is changing.
Here’s my list of centenarians to consider in age order:
For the record, the $1 bill is the most widely circulated in the U.S. with 11.4 billion in play. The $100 bill is next with 10.8 billion, a large percentage of which are held outside of the U.S. There are 8.6 billion $20 bills with Andrew Jackson’s portrait in circulation. However, Harriet Tubman is now in line to oust the former president from the front side in 2020. And still further down the road in a year yet to be determined, is an electronic payment system that eliminates paper currency altogether.
Meanwhile, there are nearly half a million centenarians living worldwide, more than four times as many as in 1990, according to United Nations. Projections suggest there will be 3.7 million centenarians by 2050. Currently, the U.S. has the greatest number of known centenarians of any nation with 53,364 according to the 2010 Census, or 17.3 per 100,000 people. In 2010, 82.8% of U.S. centenarians were female. Japan has the second-largest number of centenarians, with an estimated 51,376 as of September 2012, and the highest proportion of centenarians at 34.85 per 100,000 people.
This photo of four turtles sunning themselves on a fallen tree limb in Crystal Lake trumps anything I could write about aging this week. But there is a moral to this turtle story: slow and steady often wins the aging race.
Leave it to the baby boomers to start another revolution. This time the focus is on changing how we view old age, and I didn’t know the revolution had even begun until I went to a forum last week. The forum, “Baby Boom or Bust: Planning for our grandparents through design and technology,” was sponsored by three groups at the forefront of the movement: Aging2.0, BostonBridge and the MIT AgeLab. And like most journeys, getting there was as insightful as the forum itself.
The forum took place down the street from MIT in the Cambridge Innovation Center (CIC). The Center provides workspaces and community for startup companies. To get there, I rode the T from my home in Newton Centre to Kendall Square. It was rush hour and the trolley car was crowded. While standing amid the crush of people, one of the seated passengers gave me this sorrowful look and then offered to exchange places. I politely refused.
When I arrived at the CIC, I had to make my way through groups of young professionals standing in the lobby and outside the fifth floor Venture Café. It was clear from their facial expressions that I was the short, balding, gray-haired alien who had mistakenly landed in the wrong building.
Meanwhile, the first question the forum moderator asked was clairvoyant: "who was over the age of 60?" About one-third of the 75 or so participants raised their hands. Most of them worked in care-giving professions, and like me, had probably come to bear witness to some of the new technologies and products that would stir the soul.
However, there were no Star Trek-like transporters, holodecks, humanoid robots, or 3D food processors on display this night. Instead, the forum turned into a flat discussion about the steps required to create a successful new product, and the bounty of business opportunities that awaited the smart entrepreneur.
I learned that in a few years China would have more people over the age of 60 than the entire population of the United States. Also, baby boomers were more likely to bluntly tell you what they think about a new product. Those who were older were more likely to be polite, tell you that the product was great, and then never use it again.
Regardless of age, the not-so-secret approach for developing a winning product was to create something that was intuitive to use, and that demonstrated a high degree of return on investment—which simply meant that the user couldn’t live without it.
On the ride home, the T was less crowded and I easily found a seat. Instead of staring into my smartphone like everyone else, I looked out the window. During the pastoral stretch between the Chestnut Hill and Newton Centre stations, I concluded that we were in the midst of a revolution as profound as any that had come before. And like most, it needed a defining name which I ultimately found on the AARP website and a tour led by Dr. Bill Thomas.
Wrote AARP's president: “It's really not about aging--it's about living. To disrupt aging, we need to own our age. We need to get to the point where we're no longer defined by the old expectations of what we should or should not do at a certain age.”
The Age of Disruption Tour featured a community-based workshop on Dementia, and a rock band, non-fiction theater performance.
Far-out to that.
I also decided to broaden the appeal of the ConfrontingAging website by adding sections on Disruptive Aging, Entrepreneurship, Emerging Technology and Concepts, LGBT, and Noteworthy News and Trends.
Further, I redesigned the front page to make it easier to navigate, and given my revolutionary nature, changed the name of the Successful Aging section to Positive Aging. The term was used by one of the forum’s panelists. She did not know its origins, but after additional research I concluded that the use of the word “positive” instead of “successful” would embrace people with more adverse health conditions.
Silly me! It wasn’t until I was friended on Facebook by someone who used to run a cruise center to realize that I had left out an important aging topic on the ConfrontingAging website: Travel. It’s one of the top priorities for older people with time on their hands. Studies have shown that the physical, mental and social activities associated with traveling – such as touring a museum, navigating through an unfamiliar town, walking along the beach, or immersing in a new culture – improve overall health and cognitive function.
Yet according to one report, only one in five Americans (18%) have specifically factored travel into their retirement financial strategies. For people who don’t have the time, money or inclination, this could be the year where virtual gear becomes an alternative. Right now, you can purchase Google Cardboard for $15 and get a free app that simulates a drive through Tuscany. The system consists of a pair of magnifying glasses and a sheet of cardboard, all of which run off a standard smartphone screen.
For $100, you can buy Samsung’s Gear VR and get a free app called Streetview that creates a 360-degree environment to explore 3,000 locations, worldwide. The system features a phone-powered headset with tracking sensors, more sophisticated built-in controls, and a focus wheel.
You can also get Streetview on Samsung’s Oculus Rift. Along with HTC’s Vive and Sony’s Playstation VR, these are the highest quality VR gear systems available to consumers. They run off external computers or game consoles, and offer advanced features such as motion tracking, high-resolution screens, and sophisticated graphics. They’re also generally more comfortable to wear, better at blocking outside light, and less prone to inducing motion sickness.
The headsets range in price from about $399 to $800, plus you need a controller which can add between $400 and $2,000 to the cost. Oculus Rift and Vive are available now. Sony’s Playstation VR is scheduled for release in October.
Meanwhile, don’t leave home without visiting ConfrontingAging’s new Travel section. Also worth exploring are some new items. Eating and Exercise—Medical Foods, Nutritional Psychiatry. Housing Options—Transitioning to Assisted Living, Nursing Homes and Memory Care facilities. Retirement Planning—Coping with Empty Nest Syndrome.