Longevity has become an important measure of well-being in society today, and nowhere is that measure being exceeded than in the developed world. Thanks to advances in modern medicine and extended periods of peace and prosperity humans are living longer than they ever have in history.
This is a remarkable marker of human achievement and progress. But it’s an achievement that mostly looks good in a chart or graph. If you’ve ever cared for an aging parent you will know that the reality of old age is not so pretty. Unless you’ve been fortunate enough to have won the genetic and state lotteries, the physiological and financial strains that invariably come with old age can be daunting. Getting old is inevitable for all, and for most it will suck. But it doesn’t have to.
Besides all the advances being made by scientists, a lot will depend on the tremendous work being done by designers to understand and mitigate the negative aspects of this unprecedented life phenomenon. Yes, designers.
Why are designers taking on this challenge? Because this issue is so multi-layered and complex, a human-centered and systemic approach – which essentially defines design – is best.
Here are two organizations tackling this issue:
UK Design Council is looking at how design can help us get better at getting older, by contributing to policy debates and bringing together leading experts in the field. The Council works with the public sector, academia, and the private sector to address perceptions of aging, as well as innovation in products and services for the aging.
Another fascinating collaboration is taking place between three notable design firms: IDEO, kyu, and SYPartners. The project, called The Powerful Now, aims to “redefine aging, not as a path of decline, but of one of renewal”. This collective of talent believes that creativity is an accelerator for results. And design is a valuable method of prototyping our way into radical new solutions—at a faster pace, with more tangible results. Can’t wait to see what unfolds.
A lot will also depend on how you as an individual prepare for old age on a personal level. Now, while you are in your 40s and 50s. Start by chipping away at calcified habits and personality traits that will not serve you well in your 80s and 90s. They take decades to form. It will take at least half as long to erode.
If you don’t want to end up a despondent curmudgeon, here are six qualities* one can aspire to to make the best of old age.
- More Conscientiousness Have structure and some discipline about your day. A daily walk and newspaper, weekly breakfast with friends, monthly haircut. Do things around the house – fixing, mending, tending. Be independent to the extent you can.
- More Agreeableness Don’t be prickly. Be pleasant and jovial – with friends, family, strangers.
- More Extroversion Get out more. Share your stories. Be open to conversations with strangers.
- Less Neuroticism (negativity) Cut out the negative, doom and gloom talk.
- More Openness to New Experiences Try new foods, activities. Go to new places. Learn something new. Don’t get stuck in your rut.
- Live in the moment. Don’t dwell on the past. The past and its rich memories are pleasurable to recall – occasionally. But living there does you no good. Avoid saying things like “it was a lot better back in my day”. It wasn’t. Be present and look towards the newness tomorrow might bring.
* Adapted from the Maturity Principle espoused by research psychologist Christopher J. Soto