In pursuit of healthy aging
People are living longer. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the proportion of the world’s population older than 60 years of age will nearly double from 12% to 22% by 2050. (1)
One challenge that accompanies this demographic shift is the need for older people to remain employed longer so they can financially support themselves during their extended lifetime period. This challenge poses an immediate problem because baby boomers (adults born between 1946 and 1964) are still in the labor force, and the oldest among them are planning on staying in the labor force as long as they need to. To put this into perspective, by 2024, baby boomers will have reached ages 60 to 78. And according to a recent Pew Research Center analysis of official labor force data, in 2018, 29% of boomers ages 65 to 72 were working or looking for work. (2)
Perhaps surprisingly, the age group 65 years and older are projected to have faster rates of labor force growth annually than any other age group (Figure 1), with most of these workers holding management and professional positions. (3)
Another challenge is the increasing need for older people to remain connected within their social circles for support (e.g., family, friends, colleagues) because financial, social, and mental health is dependent on healthy connections/relationships. It is common knowledge that good relationships keep us happier and healthier. To remain employed and socially connected, however, assumes some level of physical and mental capacity (e.g., hearing, seeing and mobility). Yet, the time at which older people become increasingly reliant on physical and mental capacities to compensate for changes in their environment is the same time at which our physical and mental capacities decline because of advancing age.
Maintaining employment, for example, is dependent on being able to keep up relevant skillsets while also being able to effectively communicate with colleagues and leadership within a rapidly changing employment setting. Reaching out to friends or family for emotional support, or to help coordinate visits to a doctor’s office, is also dependent on the ability to communicate one’s needs. Both of these scenarios are dependent on having the physical and mental capacities required to communicate. Further complicating the situation, the means by which we communicate in our place of employment and within our community are becoming increasingly complex and heavily dependent on technology.
Operating a smart phone, banking online and responding to electronic mail have all become required functions when participating in modern-day society. All of these demands put older adults at a disadvantage because baby boomers and even early generation X’ers (1965–1980) have not grown up with technology. For this reason, older people often describe themselves as being uncomfortable and less tech savvy than younger generations. Approximately 77% of older Americans report needing someone to assist them in the process of learning new technologies. (3)
Part of the reason older adults experience difficulty using new tools relates to physical/health limitations. By age 60, for example, the major burdens of disability and death arise from age-related losses in hearing, seeing and moving, and noncommunicable diseases, including heart disease, stroke, chronic respiratory disorders, cancer and dementia. (4) According to a Pew Research study, 23% percent of older adults indicated having a “physical or health condition that made reading difficult or challenging.” (5) Also, nearly 25% of those aged 65 to 74 and 50% of those who are 75 and older have disabling hearing loss. (6) Because impairments often appear at the same time, multimorbidities exist and negatively affect a person’s quality of life.