I had the great pleasure to go out and visit again with the MIT AgeLab. The AgeLab was started in 1999 to invent new ideas and creatively translate technologies into practical solutions that improve people’s health and enable them to “do things” throughout their lifespan. With over 45 PhDs and post docs working on everything from fonts on car displays to a robot seal that responds to your touch, it was quite an experience. I thought it would be interesting to share some of things I heard and saw.
One of the big takeaways is the idea of disruptive demographics. There are more walkers and wheelchairs than baby carriages in parts of Europe. There are more people over age 60 in China than there are people in Russia. Japan’s (which my host called ‘a nursing home on an island’) population by mid-century may reduce by half, and nearly a third of those left will be over 65. The baby boomers in the US (born between 1946 and 1964: that’s a lot of us) now number 77 million, and a boomer turns 65 every seven seconds. Many Americans today have more people older than them to take care of than younger.
It’s a new world of aging. Our kids are having fewer kids (heck my kids are having no kids yet), and people don’t stay in the same place. We have the benefit of better health care (although expensive, better health care), and a wide range of things we can do. Getting old today is not the same as it was with mom and dad. We have smartphones, internet, senior living centers with gyms and lectures and cars that look behind us. We also have kids who get married later, have a cat instead of a kid, and move 900 miles away (OK, that’s just one of mine).
So what is starting to happen is change in a lot of areas. New cars will improve our mobility. Someday (maybe soon), we’ll have driverless cars that will take you to the store, to the doctor or the golf course. Right now you can get a little thingy for your wrist (I have one: a Fit-Bit) that measures your sleep and your pulse, but it could also remind you to take your meds and tell your daughter if you didn’t. I have heard from owners and builders of adult care facilities that the latest question they are getting is about how good the wireless network is and how much connectivity the residents can have. Automation won’t just be to cars either. You may have a ‘smart fridge’ that lets your kids know if you haven’t opened it or thrown out the old cold cuts. In Japan, they already have a robot hotel with no people working there, which sounds creepy to me. We even saw a smart toilet that measures your blood sugar in your urine.
But what hit home the hardest was revisiting the four phases of retirement. It made me rethink how we do retirement planning. The premise is that we have our lives broken into 8,000 day periods. 8,000 days is 22 years. So your first 8,000 days goes from being born to getting out of college, or the military. Your next 8,000 days gets you to mid-life. The third 8,000 days gets you to retirement, and the last 8,000 days is retirement. For the first three segments, we have a lot of guidance. When you’re a kid, you get lots of folks telling you what to do, learn, wear and act (teachers and parents). For the next two, you still have lots of guidance (spouse, boss). The last 8,000 days don’t have an instruction manual. But, the AgeLab tells me there are four phases to segment we call retirement.
Phase One: Managing Ambiguity. This is when you are ‘sorta’ retired. You retirement is like a big vacation. Lot of leisure, maybe a part-time job, still hanging out with your old cronies. Think about how most men approach a conversation: Guy one: “How’s it going?” Guy Two: “Good”. Guy one: “So what do you do?” Men in particular, define themselves by their work, so phase one for a lot of guys is being a halfway house between working and not working. Here we look at money and taxes, and spending.
Phase Two: ‘Should I Stay or Should I go?’ (If you don’t know this is a rock song, you’re at least 5 years older than me). Here you decide whether you are really retired or not. Now you might decide to move up to Gaylord (not bothering to think about how far you are from health care and what winter will be like). This is where you need to think about things like how many floors you want on your house, and how to get rid of all the junk you accumulated over 60 years.
Phase Three: The Big Lie. Now you think you are retired and going to have fun, but the ugly truth is your body, mind and money haven’t kept up to your intentions. You spend a lot of time going to various medical professionals, maybe helping family members in phase four and also feeling the effects of inflation on your retirement income.
Phase Four: Somebody is Alone. Chapter four is not pleasant, and this is where one of the two of you passes and the other forges on with all of the maladies of phase three plus less money usually.
What does this sordid observation mean? To me, it means we need ‘longevity planning’. What will you do at those different points? What legal documents do you need? What other folks are you going to need (doctors, dentist, home help, financial planner…)? Where should you be? Who will you be with? How much money will you need? For me, the AgeLab was an eye-opener. The world has changed and will keep changing. My life, God-willing, will be long and hopefully fruitful. But I learned that, as a retirement advisor, I have to think more about all phases of my people’s lives.