Ken Dychtwald Ken Dychtwald

Ken Dychtwald sees the coronavirus quarantine affecting generations differently. As a septuagenarian, he prefers to think of it as “cocooning” — that is, people should take this time to slow down and reemerge “as a better version of themselves.”

Dychtwald, the psychologist, gerontologist and founder and CEO of Age Wave, who has written 17 books on aging, spoke with Peter Kaldes, the new CEO of the American Society on Aging, in a recent webinar.

When asked if he saw aging as an ascent or descent for him as he just had a birthday, Dychtwald said physically he tries to keep from going into a descent by doing yoga and keeping active, but the “body isn’t what it used to be.” However, mentally he says it’s an ascent, in which he thinks experience can make older people “modern elders.”

He does believe the elderly are more vulnerable to the contagion, but are better set up for retirement in terms of Social Security, investments and savings. “Retirees are the least distressed on what is happening right now,” he said.

(Related: How the Pandemic Is Affecting Retirement Confidence: EBRI)

However, “people 50 to 64 are getting the wind knocked out of them now,” he said, largely due to the market’s volatility and the affect on their investments and retirement plans.

He also sympathized with those in their 30s and 40s because due to the quarantine they can’t visit their parents, their kids are “freaking out because they can’t see their friends,” and they have to worry about living expenses including college debt. “They definitely are hurting,” he said.

Teenagers and those in their 20s, he said, are wondering “what has happened to my future?”

What Can Gen Z Teach Their Elders?

Dychtwald said that the greatest gift younger people have is to help older people be curious, and educate them about today’s culture, and especially about technology. He said only 62% of the “Silent Generation” uses the internet and only 28% use social media, adding that now is the time this generation needs to be socializing. “Kids can teach Grandma how to Zoom, and how to work digitally,” he said.

He also thought it was troublesome that so many of today’s elderly live alone and with little help. “We haven’t crafted anything that is creating long-lived people to be independent,” and maybe the contagion is “a wake-up call” for new models, like shared living in a house, or even a village (which have been created, like Florida’s “Villages” development).

“There is no more interesting field than aging,” he said. “But there are two problems. One is they aren’t very innovative … and two is there are fiefdoms. Thousands of programs but they don’t talk to each other.”

Health care and social services have to work together, he said, as well as science and caregiving. To illustrate, he uses his Medicare statement, in which it says “This is not a bill” and “This is a bill” on the same sheet. He asked, “how does anyone work their way through a system that’s almost impossible to navigate?”

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