University of Calgary

The Golden Age of Aging

Submitted by alumni on Thu, 04/13/2017 - 13:38.

The Golden Age of Aging

By 2036, one in four Canadians will be 65 years or older. This means oldsters will have more clout in areas from health and commerce to education and housing.
By Jacquie Moore • Illustration by Travis Sengaus

First, the bad news: we are never going to live forever. The good news? We are never going to live forever. That sums up the measured perspective of Dr. David Hogan, the Brenda Strafford Foundation Chair in Geriatric Medicine at UCalgary. Indeed, with Canada facing a dramatic shift in demographics that will, by 2036, see an unprecedented one in four Canadians clock in at 65 years of age, our collective obsession with extending lifespan may be, as Hogan puts it, “a little misguided.” It’s quality of life, he says, not quantity of years, that matters more than ever.

"Humans are living longer than ever, but we’re more scared of dying. Four hundred years ago, people were very religious, so death wasn’t such a big issue. Now? We’re very attached to life on Earth." — Dr. David Hogan

While advancements in disease prevention will no doubt make super-centenarianism (living to 110 or more) a regular thing in the future, Hogan believes that, for old age to be a truly appealing prospect, our society needs to make major changes in how the senior set are integrated into neighbourhoods, educational institutions and the workforce.

“We need to modify our social construct of life,” says Hogan, who adds that living as long as Yoda doesn’t much appeal to him (“We’re not designed to live 500 years — it wouldn’t be equitable with certain people having hundreds of years to gain money and power”). In any case, he says, the inevitable change in demographic, “is a game-changer that will influence everything.” To put it bluntly: in 2067, oldsters are going to have clout. By then, Hogan hopes and expects, “we’ll be a little wiser about what we focus on as we age.” — JM

You quit your job at 55 — now what? You might have 50 more years of life to live. “You can’t just shuffle people off who are active participants in the work force,” says Hogan. “We’ll need to start using the talents of older people. I don’t think retirement will be so abrupt. There will be more part-time work, more partial retirement options for people who aren’t ready to just put their feet up.”

“We’ll need more entrepreneurs developing products and technology for older people — to think not only about the business opportunities that may be out there, but also how they sell stuff that is geared to older people,” says Hogan. “That crowd will have money to spend.”

“Right now, the process in our society is to go to school when you’re young to prepare for your career,” Hogan says. “That will change: education might be drawn out throughout one’s lifetime, just as careers will be modified to allow for people to carry on longer.”

Senior Suites of the Future
Apply “prefabrication” and “modular” to seniors’ housing and you get UCalgary’s Age-in-Place Laneway Housing project that will allow the elderly to stay close to friends and family — and out of long-term and acute care. Imagine a little 13-by-35-foot portable house that can be temporarily leased and popped into an urban or rural backyard. Inside, modular cabinetry and shelves are placed to suit the individual. Pictures adorn the cabinet fronts (bowls, cereal, etc.) as memory aids. A large-screen TV functions as an interface device for a medical health-care team, with sensors for monitoring gait, hydration, unsteadiness and falls built right into the floor. Medical devices, say an IV pump, may be brought in as needed.

“The goal is to provide beautiful housing that empowers people and makes you feel good about living there,” says professor and architect John Brown, who is leading the project. This futurist housing form is almost here — one unit will be piloted for three months this spring.