As human life spans increase, people need to form “personal, informal support teams” of caregivers, health professionals and friends if they want to age successfully, writes Michael Birt, director of the Center for Sustainable Health at ASU’s Biodesign Institute, in a Future Tense article for Slate magazine.
In the face of a rapidly aging population, Birt writes that governments around the world are looking to “contain or curtail potentially astronomical expenditures on aging-related social and health care.” These looming cuts mean that public services for elderly people will contract, while lower birthrates mean less family members to supply caretaking services.
Drawing parallels to swimmer Diana Nyad’s highly collaborative journey from Cuba to Florida and the aluminum ladder placed in 1975 that helps climbers scale the Tibetan side of Mount Everest, Birt argues that we tend to think of longevity “as an individual journey of one,” but in fact we need to rethink it “as a team sport” and work together to build networks of support and camaraderie.
In the article, Birt provides a diverse set of examples of aging support teams: his wife’s family banding together to help care for a loved one suffering from advanced dementia; a colleague and friend who marshaled a global, digital network of friends to support her during and after a radical mastectomy; and older adults gathering together as part of the Village movement, in which a group of neighbors comes together “to develop services that would enable older adults to remain in their homes and community.” To learn more about the challenge of longer life spans and emerging solutions, visit Future Tense.
Future Tense is a collaboration among ASU, the New America Foundation and Slate magazine that explores how emerging technologies affect policy and society. On Oct. 4, 2013, Future Tense will host an event in Washington, D.C. on how increases in human life span could transform public policy, society and the economy. For more information and to RSVP, visit New America’s website.