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4 Critical Aging Issues the Next President Must Tackle: Ken Dychtwald

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“Ready or not, an ‘age wave’ is coming that could make or break our nation,” Ken Dychtwald wrote in a paper on Monday. The size of the over-65 population and the increase in projected longevity could have severe implications for the country, according to Dychtwald, but “very few of these pivotal issues have been brought to the main stage by either the candidates or the news media,” he wrote in an email.

“When our Constitution was crafted, the average life expectancy in the U.S. was barely 36 years and the median age was a mere 16,” Dychtwald wrote in the paper. “Today, the average life expectancy at birth is 79 and is steadily rising.”

The president and CEO of Age Wave urged the presidential candidates to turn their attention to the needs of this demographic and the “unprecedented medical, fiscal and intergenerational challenges” it will present to the nation.  

Dychtwald outlined four “transpartisan” issues that he believes must be addressed by the candidates to protect older Americans: Alzheimer's research needs a "moonshot" (Photo: AP)

1. Medical Science Needs a “Moonshot”

In 1961, President John F. Kennedy set a goal of putting a man on the moon by the end of that decade. The new president needs to take a similar approach to addressing Alzheimer’s, Dychtwald said.

Modern medical science has extended Americans’ life span significantly, but less so their “health span.” Alzheimer’s and dementia affect half of people over 85, Dychtwald wrote, and are expected to affect more than 15 million people as baby boomers age, with a cost of $20 trillion by 2050.

“Our scientific priorities are woefully out of sync: for every dollar currently spent on Alzheimer’s care, less than half a cent is being spent on innovative scientific research,” Dychtwald wrote.

Among the questions Dychtwald would like the candidates to answer are:

  • What bold measures would you take to beat Alzheimer’s before it beats us?
  • Shouldn’t it be mandatory for medical and nursing schools to teach core geriatric skills to all students?
  • Considering 34 million people are providing care to an elder loved one, what changes should be made to the tax code and work leave policies to help them out?

Avoiding mass elder poverty

2. Avoiding Mass Elder Poverty

More than half of households led by someone 55 or older have no retirement savings, Dychtwald wrote, referring to data from the Government Accountability Office, and 51% of the population has no pension other than Social Security.

“We could be heading to a future in which tens of millions of impoverished aging boomers could place crushing burdens on the U.S. economy,” Dychtwald warned.

Dychtwald’s questions for the candidates include:

  • How can we cause Americans to save enough to be able to afford their longer lives? 
  • Describe Social Security and Medicare as you think they should be for the millennial generation. And shouldn’t all young people learn about money management in high school?
  • Considering the substantial “asset inequality” among older adults, should we affluence test entitlements to give more to those in need and less to those who are not?

Ending ageism

3. Ending Ageism

Social institutions as varied as urban planning, education, technology, hiring, housing and popular media are more focused on the younger generation, Dychtwald said. Less than 2% of homes are designed to be safe and accessible for older residents, and public transportation was designed with young workers in mind rather than older people.

Questions for the candidates:

  • How would you propose wiping out the ageism that is pervasive in America?
  • How should our communities become more “aging friendly?”
  • As they age, millions of people struggle with mobility and transportation — and corresponding social isolation. How should that be remedied?

Finding new purpose for older Americans

4. Finding New Purpose for Older Americans

A 2015 report from Merrill Lynch and Age Wave found retirees account for 31% of adults over 25, and contribute 42% of charitable donations and 45% of volunteer hours. Over the next two decades, the number of volunteer hours provided to various organizations by retirees is expected to reach 58 billion, or $1.4 trillion in services.

“Considering the abundance of time affluence that retirees enjoy, we haven’t even scratched the surface” of the resources they can contribute to their communities, Dychtwald wrote. “It’s time for our political, religious and community leaders to create a compelling national vision for the purpose of all those additional years.”

Questions for the candidates:

  • Do we ask too little of our elders?
  • What is your biggest idea for what America’s 68 million retirees could be doing to contribute to our society?
  • Why do you think this is the right age for you to be president? (Clinton is 68; Trump is 70.) Are you an aging/longevity role model?

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