“We have a longevity paradox. Now that we have achieved what humankind has tried to achieve since it has walked – living longer – we really don’t have a good idea of what to do with all that additional time.”
– Dr. Joe Coughlin, Director of the MIT AgeLab
The AgeLab was established at MIT in 1999 as a multidisciplinary research program that works with businesses to improve the quality of life of older people and those who care for them. The AgeLab applies consumer-centered thinking to understand the challenges and opportunities of longevity and emerging generational lifestyles to encourage innovation across business markets. Their insights are critical for anyone who is nearing retirement, or who has loved ones such as parents, aunts, or uncles who are entering this stage of life. This article in our series discusses the “Navigating Longevity” phase and explores the difficulty of keeping up with “Administrivia” as you grow older.
The “Navigating Longevity” Phase
As we discussed in our last article, the folks at the MIT AgeLab have proposed a new name for the “retirement years,” the stage of life that begins roughly at age 66 and extends for 25 or more years through the end of life. According to the AgeLab, these years should be named the “Exploring” phase of our lives, as opposed to “retirement.”
In their model for aging, the AgeLab also suggests that there are four distinct phases that people experience as they live through their “Exploring” years. The first of these is the “Honeymoon” phase, named because it marks the period of time when this whole idea of exploring our freedom is brand new to us. But, there are also a number of adjustments that must be made as we acclimate to the changes in our lives.
The second stage is called the “Big Decision” stage because this is a time when we are faced with a number of very important decisions that may have impact on our quality of life for the rest of our lives, and in particular, decisions about where we will live.
The next stage is known as “Managing Longevity.” This is a period of time when managing the complexities of life may become more challenging. The daily details of life, or “Administrivia,” begin to increase, as healthcare, financial, legal, and household logistics begin to become more complex, and cognitive changes may make it more difficult to keep up with these details. Below, we focus on the healthcare aspects of this phase.
Administrivia #1: Healthcare
Studies show that healthcare concerns begin to take the highest priority as we age. As the graphic below demonstrates, when people are the ages of 25 through around 55, they tend to think about retirement in terms of their financial well-being. However, at 65, the primary concern shifts to physical well-being.
As we age, the maintenance of our health begins to require more focus, time, and financial resources; as such, our concern for our health increases. In the third retirement phase, the logistics of health management may become a full-time job, with increased medical appointments, medication management, and increasing mobility challenges. Spending per capita on healthcare also increases steeply.
It’s estimated that 92 percent of older adults are managing at least one chronic condition, and 77 percent are managing the complexities of two or more chronic conditions. Chronic conditions can make handling other health issues more difficult. The result is that the maintenance of our health becomes more complex and, thus, more likely to be mismanaged.
For example, what may seem like a straightforward routine, medication adherence, may become a key and challenging aspect of our health. A look at the numbers shows how increased age leads to juggling more medications. In fact, 86 percent of those aged 65 and older regularly take prescription drugs, with 53 percent taking four or more on a regular basis. Almost inevitably, it will become more of a priority to fill all of our prescriptions at the right time, to take medications on the proper intervals, and to ensure that we avoid certain combinations of drugs that may not be healthy or are counterproductive.
If we experience cognitive changes, which is likely, it may become increasingly difficult to keep up with all of our prescriptions and doctors’ appointments required to properly maintain our health. Adult children or other caretakers may need to step in and help. Our children may not live locally, further complicating the situation.
The management of our healthcare may be the most complex problem we face as we age, and it requires thoughtful planning and use of available resources. In our next article, we will explore how changes in socialization can impact our well-being in this stage of life.