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How do the presidential candidates view aging?

Expert calls for Trump and Clinton to address the needs of older Americans

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September 16th, 2016
Presidential candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.

Presidential candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.

There is a long list of important issues shaping the discourse of the 2016 campaign. Terrorism, the economy, immigration, unemployment, and health care are the big topics being debated. There’s one issue of critical importance that is being overlooked. 

“An ‘age wave’ is coming that could either make or break America,” says Ken Dychtwald, Ph.D., president and CEO of Agewave, a company that advises businesses and nonprofits worldwide about the opportunities and challenges of an aging population.

One of the nation’s foremost experts on aging, Dychtwald has worked with half of the Fortune 500 companies, helping them develop products, policies, and services for older Americans.   

The age wave he’s talking about is the generational tsunami that is about to hit the U.S. as Baby Boomers reach their retirement years. Each day, 10,000 Americans celebrate their 70th birthday. 

“I believe anyone seeking to be our next president should indicate their knowledge of and priorities regarding this coming age wave,” says Dychtwald. “I also believe that the news media should be thoughtfully prompting candidates to disclose their level and direction of thinking about these critical issues.”

Defining the age of ‘old’

When do you think old age begins? In recent surveys, the majority of respondents said somewhere between 75 and 80. Those numbers make a lot of sense in an era when the average life expectancy is 79 and rising. Back in 1935 when the Social Security Act passed, average life expectancy was 62. 

Is it time to move the age marker for when benefits start to kick in? That’s one question Dychtwald would like to ask the presidential candidates. 

He’s also interested in hearing what both Hillary Clinton, 68, and Donald Trump, 70, think of their own aging. 

Critical questions include:

• Why do you think this is the right age for you to be running for president? 

• Would you support funding the retraining of older workers for new careers? How should this be done? Would you incentivize employers who hire older workers?

Addressing the diseases of aging

While Americans are living longer, they are not necessarily living healthier. Many diseases of aging are treatable but require expensive care. One solution might be to conduct research looking for better, cheaper, and more effective treatments. 

For example, Dychtwald points out that for every dollar currently being spent on Alzheimer’s care, less than half a cent is being spent on scientific research.  

Furthermore, who is going to care for our aging population? We have more than 50,000 pediatricians, but fewer than 5,000 geriatricians. Only 8 of the country’s 145 academic medical centers have full geriatrics departments, and 97% of U.S. medical students don’t take a single course in geriatrics. 

Critical questions include:

• What bold measures would you take to eliminate Alzheimer’s before it beats us? Are you willing to make this your “moon shot” and commit whatever resources are necessary to make it happen?

• Would you be willing to make it mandatory for medical and nursing schools to teach core geriatrics skills to all students?

Elder poverty

Thirty-seven states require that high school students receive sex education. Only 17 states require that students be taught financial education. What does this have to do with aging? 

Young people need to know how to plan for their own retirement, and one good way to start is by fostering financial literacy. As it stands now, 52% of all households near retirement have no retirement savings, and 51% of the general population has no pension beyond Social Security. For this generation, it may be too late to catch up.

This could burden the nation’s economy and younger generations who will need to support their elders. 

Critical questions include:

• Describe Social Security as you think it should be for the Millennial generation.

• How would you avert mass poverty among the aging Boomer generation? 

• How would you make financial literacy among the young a priority and reality?  

Ageism

It’s no secret that advertisers salivate over reaching the younger demographic. Our popular culture is unabashedly youth-centric, but so are our towns, our public spaces, and even our homes. So much in our daily lives is not designed with an aging population in mind. 

Critical questions include:

• Do you believe that ageism exists in America? What would you do as president to wipe it out?

• How should our communities become more “aging friendly”? 

The new purpose of maturity

Living longer means we have more time, but what are we doing with all that time? Many people volunteer. Some continue to work. But some do very little. Our 68 million retirees currently spend an average of 49 hours (2,940 minutes) a week watching television. On this, Dychtwald suggests that we change what we ask of our elders. 

Critical questions include: 

• What is your biggest idea for what America’s 68 million retirees could be doing to contribute to our society? 

• What would you do as president to elevate the role of seniors in our society?

The first presidential debate is scheduled for Sept. 22, 2016. Do you think any of Dychtwald’s questions will make the cut?

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