So Much More to Life on the Other Side of the Hill

Published on October 24, 2017

Seniors: Designing Life Through the Ages

There will be 10 billion people in the world in 2050 – one-tenth will be over 65 years old – and in Japan, sales of adult diapers are already greater than those of baby diapers. This is the context with which Nancy Judy of Sodexo introduced today’s breakout panel on quality of life for seniors.

Making the Third Act Count 

The most senior person on the panel was Jane Fondawhose new film, Our Souls at Night, is a love story starring her and Robert Redford. Judy asked the actress what she is reading these days. Surprisingly, Fonda, who is still living life to the fullest at age 79, said there is book on her bedside table about death. We can’t really design life unless we’re very conscious of death,” she said. “It’s important to realize we’re close to the end. It informs everything we do.”

In a similar vein, Laurence Lien, who runs a Singapore-based foundation practicing “radical philanthropytalked about their study comparing palliative care worldwide. “Have you heard of the Quality of Death Index?” he said, holding it up. He said that highlighting this taboo subject forced Singapore’s government to improve its record.

The Lien Foundation also created a new kind of nursing home focusing less on medicine and more on people’s individual needs and desires. “In homes,” he said, “the identity of the person is scrubbed, erased. You wake up at the same time as everybody else, eat the same food…whatever you like, what your values are, your habits forget it.” 

Design and Technology for Every Age

Our five senses change as we age, and sometimes earlier than that. One panelist, Eric Brun-Sanglardwent blind at age 33 following a viral eye infection – a tragedy that inspired him to start a new career as a “sensorial” designerHe said that as people grow older their houses should evolve, too, encouraging them to explore new hobbies and passions. I tell my clients: it’s great, you can have a little part of the house for the museum of your past, but we need to make tons of room for the future, he said.

Scott Frisch of the AARP spoke about technology and misconceptions about seniors; maybe they didn’t know how to operate a VCR 30 years ago, but those days are over. “The  50-plus population  they’re engaged with technology, they’re interacting with technology, they depend on technology, and they’re participating in this technology economy.” He said Seniors present an exceptional business opportunity, representing USD 7.6 trillion of direct and indirect economic activity in the United States alone.

A Multidimensional Trajectory

Dr. Hélène Perrault’s LIFE Research Institute organized the first age-friendly business forum, part of its efforts to come up with practical solutions for this changing demographic. As she explained, the Institute takes a comprehensive, cross-sector approach to aging. “We also believe – like Eric, like Jane – that there is a trajectory. It is not only downhill. There is a life trajectory. It is multidimensional.”

That good news was confirmed by somebody who was living it. “You can be over the hill,” said Fonda, “but then there are all these other hills. Who told us that there were meadows with great flowers and animals? And then there’s another hill to be over. I mean – it just keeps going.”