Following the 2015 White House Conference on Aging that took place on Monday, July 13th, Springer Publishing Company wants to continue the conversation about technology, intergenerational collaboration, and the future of aging. During the WHCoA, President Obama stated, “One of the best measures of a country is how it treats its older citizens”, and Springer Publishing Company also recognizes the importance of addressing the challenges that exist for our aging population.
The following post has been adapted from The Aging Networks, 8th Edition: A Guide to Programs and Services by Kelly Niles-Yokum.
Every nation will experience population aging in its own unique way. As population aging occurs, there will be changes in the social structures of the society to accommodate the changes that population aging creates. Demand for older workers and/or older community volunteers may increase. New businesses and new technology will emerge to address both the problems and opportunities associated with population aging. And, with any luck, ageism will be diminished and not increased. In a recent study of baby boomers and older adults regarding Long-Term Services and Supports (LTSS) planning, two-thirds of the respondents expected that they would need LTSS in the future. Baby boomers were more likely than older adults to report that they planned to move into an apartment or retirement community, or to live with an adult child. As population aging occurs, there will likely be an increase in the awareness of the challenges of late life and more people will not only plan for their own futures, but develop new models of lifestyles for their old age.
The latter part of the 20th century saw an enormous growth in the number and quality of programs and services oriented to older Americans. The early part of the 21st century is witness to the incredible phenomenon that is population aging, a journey that will take us to places heretofore unseen. There are many challenges associated with population aging for both the larger society and the aging networks. The aging networks should take a leadership position in addressing these challenges, which means that, in order to remain a vital network, its members must be up to the task to examine things according to what they might be, rather than what they have been. The lives of older Americans will be different from those who preceded them into old age, and the changes that will occur both as a function of the new cohorts entering late life and by the force of their numbers will reshape society and redefine the role of the aging network.
As new elders enter old age, the aging network will be challenged to adapt to changing attitudes, preferences, and lifestyles. Programs will need to accommodate the needs and preferences of changing cohorts. The challenge to the aging network is twofold: to keep providing meaningful programs they find worthwhile and to develop programs and services that will be attractive to the baby boomers and the cohorts of older people who will follow them.
Some of the seniors who will need services in the coming decades arrived in the United States as adults of various ages. Others arrived as children. Some speak English fluently; others do not. Some will have strong connections to family in this country. In other cases, families would have been split by immigration—some remaining in the home country while others immigrated to the United States. Some older adults have spent their lives struggling with identity not only with their race and ethnicity but also with sexual orientation. The aging network faces the challenge of developing a variety of programs that effectively address the needs and desires of all of these groups. Many aging network organizations are experimenting with different models of services, such as ethnic specific meals in meal programs. The adaptations to a changing cultural consumer will require innovations and creativity and are necessary to keep the aging network relevant to all elders.
In the first decade of the millennium, we have seen a gradual erosion of the expectation that old age is a time of rest, relaxation, and retirement. Many retirees spent their retirement engaged in their communities and in activities that they had postponed while working. Increasingly, older adults will require a wider range of options and a different approach to this phase of life. The aging network of programs and services could play an important role in helping older Americans plan and implement their own approach to late life at this time of changing realities and opportunities.
Innovation and adaptation to the changing face of aging is the key to survival for the aging networks. We often need to be reminded of the importance of innovation and universality in design as defined broadly whether it be programming, service delivery, or day-today inclusivity and respect for persons.