Aging: Denial is Not Just a River in Egypt
BY JEFF RUBIN
Recently an article posted in Forbes magazine entitled Why It’s Time for More Big Foundations to Fund Aging got my attention. What the author says should get your attention too.
Written by Paul Hogan, chairman, and co-founder of Home Instead Senior Care, this article appeared in Forbe’s September 11, 2019 issue. In it, Mr. Hogan asks the question why is it that “so few foundation dollars (less than 1%) are focused on causes related to the elderly?”
Hogan poses his query within the context of three significant societal changes that are well underway which he and other advocates for positive aging, including myself, emphatically say can no longer be ignored.
- We are an aging society – more people are over the age of 60 than under the age of 5.
- People are living longer – 85 + is the fastest-growing age group.
- Tens of millions of today’s older, middle-class workers, and those already in retirement will end up economically disadvantaged or impoverished if we fail to address the current realities of aging.
“Rising housing costs and health care bills, inadequate nutrition, lack of access to transportation, diminished savings and limited opportunities for work” are some of the reasons given as evidence to support this latter, dire assessment.
So why is it, Hogan asks, that despite the reality many of us can expect to face, are so few foundation dollars focused on causes related to the elderly? He suggests four reasons why this may be so:
- Many view older Americans as a burden, while they see children as an investment.
- A pervasive attitude that many older adults are responsible for the position they’re in simply because they didn’t save enough or work hard enough in their younger years
- We’ve been conditioned to believe that the government takes care of our elders
- Far too many of us aren’t aware of the unprecedented demographic shift that has taken place.
Given my years of experience speaking with friends, family, audiences of all ages, and community leaders regarding the impact and opportunities of aging, I firmly agree with Mr. Hogan’s reasons. The sources listed below to further substantiate his findings:
- 2014 Employee Benefits Research report: “60 percent of workers ages 55 and older had saved less than $100,000 for their retirement years, and another 24 percent have saved less than $1,000.”
- 2014 Harvard University Study: “Older people are skimping on other necessities (i.e. food, transportation, medical care) in order to keep themselves housed.”
- 2015 New York Times editorial: “Older people are likely to be seen as a burden and a drain on resources, rather than as a resource in themselves.”
- 2018 report by Bureau of Labor Statistics: “Despite recent employment figures, the long-term unemployment rate for older workers remains stubbornly high—31.5%.”
I believe that self-denial, a tendency to avoid acknowledging or accepting an obvious or unpleasant truth, is an equally impactful reason why so few big foundation social responsibility dollars go to causes related to the elderly.
This quandary triggered in my mind, an “aha” moment. I felt that if someone is in denial about their own aging, it should stand to reason that foundations, as well as businesses, governmental agencies, and other institutions that employ, engage, or elect them, might also delay in acknowledging and accepting the obvious.
That contention was echoed at the first-ever July 2019 Global Silver Economy Forum held in Helsinki, Finland. This two-day conference connected dignitaries and leaders from 50 countries to explore the global issues and opportunities of aging as they relate to the longevity revolution and to the over one billion people who are age 60 and older.
I believe that several key points from the conference are central to any discussion of funding:
- The biggest mistake we can make is seeing aging as a problem.
- Every business needs an aging strategy.
- The government should create policies that enable the ecosystem.
- 20th-century thinking cannot be applied to solve 21st-century problems.
If we are to positively navigate the course of aging in America today, the consensus to be drawn is that each of us must think and behave differently, become catalysts for action, and thought leaders for positive change.
Maybe the better question to ask is not why, but “how are we planning for our own and our society’s aging?”
Aging, after all, is not about old people. It’s about the future of all of us.
Jeff Rubin is a nationally recognized speaker, author, and adviser on community and aging issues, having spent over 20 years as a director and facilitator of community service programs at the local, state, and national levels. An advocate for “Age-friendly” and “Livable” communities, Mr. Rubin is the author of the newly released Wisdom of Age: Perceptions and insights from one generation to another. Contact Jeff at firstname.lastname@example.org