Crossing the Digital Divide

Today, I had an opportunity to listen to the first online program of the American Society on Aging (ASA), Future Proof. The featured guest was Ken Dychtwald, psychologist, gerontologist, owner/creator of Age Wave, and for 40 years, a great role model for those working in the field of aging. Ken was interviewed by Peter Kaldes, the incoming President of ASA, for their discussion of “Aging in the Time of COVID-19”. Here are some of the points Ken made during the interview:

* With the whole world grappling with fear, tragedy, and travesty during this pandemic, older adults, or elders (his preferred term) need to be seen as the “steadiers,” the group that brings wisdom, maturity, and strength to our world.

* There are too many barriers that divide generations, the so-called “digital divide” or “digital ditch” is the big one and younger generations need to take greater steps to welcome elderly back across that divide.

* The field of aging is the most exciting field in the world today, with the exploding demographics, the demands for innovative programs, the challenges to integrate divergent systems, and the need for greater collaboration among all stakeholders.

* Currently, the thousands of programs and systems in the U.S. that impact the elderly are like silos or fiefdoms. They are not integrated and are very difficult for the average person to navigate from one program to another. A study from Harvard showed that only 2% of the housing stock in the U.S. is aging friendly. Transportation systems are not adequate to meet the needs of the aging population. And too many older adults live alone, which is counter-productive to their well-being.

* During this pandemic, more disparities are visible; though doctors and nurses are in the spotlight for the care they are providing and the risks taken, less attention is given to the CNA’s, aides, delivery services and others working in long term care facilities who are at equal or greater risk and often without personal protective equipment.

* Looking ahead, we need to re-imagine a world where those who are living longer may need direction with a new sense of purpose, new versions of health support, new forms of financial guidance, and better connections with family and community. We need to awaken ourselves, as he has proposed with Age Wave, that we are entering a new era, asking what we will do with the population explosion of those who are living longer.

* The forward-looking developers will see an acceleration of new businesses and will pivot to these: greater emphasis on digital health, transportation, communal living, financial planning, eruptions in innovative educational programs. Many of the skills we already learned in high school or college are now obsolete, and why not return to learn new skills and interests.

* We have been through several euphemisms for old age: Golden Agers, seniors, middlescense (between adulthood and old age), and now, elder. Regardless of what it is called, the main point is to take pride in this maturity, to “re-language” the field of aging to where we attribute power and dignity to our later years, and to invite the elderly to give back. So, not just a time when older adults need our help, but also a time where they can plant seeds for others, too.

It is always a pleasure to listen to Dr. Dychtwald. Those who have read my earlier blogs will recall my admiration for his vision and sensitivity to the needs of all older adults. He is, as he says, the Paul Revere of the expected population and cultural shift brought about by increases in longevity. Welcome to the future.

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The author is a clinical and geropsychologist who has worked with older adults for over three decades. His company, the Living to 100 Club, offers resources for seniors on successful aging and managing setbacks. The tagline for the Club is "turning aging on its head" capturing the notion that age is only a number and to not allow setbacks to interfere with a positive outlook about our future. He also hosts a live radio program on Voice America, every Friday at 2pm PT.  www.Livingto100.Club.

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