Age-Friendly & Drivers of Change: It’s inter-generational.

Planet Longevity – 2nd Anniversary! As we enter our third year 2016, our basic function remains. Planet Longevity is a thought leadership panel. Our aim is to advance awareness of the changing social and economic conditions for all generations challenged by the multiple issues of living a longer life. Over the last few years, as we crafted (2012), formed (2014) and developed to where we are now; at the core of what we promote is forward thinking – with inter-generational connectivity in mind.

That fundamental notion transcends what so many often confine within their dialogue, as strictly a matter of “Boomer or Senior’s issues”. As we have said in different ways in our own conversations as a panel, and individually in our blog posts, you cannot isolate the topics such as health care, pension reforms or community design as one cohort’s concern.

With that in mind, we continue this year to support the Age-Friendly campaign, both on a local and global level, and encourage a sharper exchange of inter-generational views in the process. There are still so many differences in outlook and weighted levels of importance given to the many aspects of aging and longevity. Yet even the phrase “age-friendly” may not be as obvious in its intent to serve this inter-generational understanding.

Having said that, what we should be encouraged to know is that one subject which may bolster the age-friendly dialogue in an inter-generational exchange is technologyand its augmentation of living conditions throughout the life course for generations now and into the future.

Let’s connect some dots on this with some forward thinking.

Published in January 2016, in timing with the World Economic Forum in Davos-Klosters, Switzerland, was a Future of Jobs report in a so named “Fourth Industrial Revolution”. One of the items featured in the report was “drivers of change”. This is broken into two categories – demographic/socio-economic, and technological. A significant driver of change in the first category is “longevity and aging demographics”.

Hook that up with one of the nine specifics in the technological category, such as robotics and autonomous transport, and you get I would argue, opportunity for inter-generational participation in designing a better age-friendly society. Technology augmentation – if it’s good for the old it’s good for the young, (which is one of the principles behind the age-friendly concept); it also can be said that – if the young and old get busy behind work (jobs) that support a longevity society, then we all benefit in this fourth revolution.

As the demographic and socio-economic narrative of the world is changing at warp speed, industries, countries, communities and individuals are going to have to adapt incrementally faster. As the WEF – Future of Jobs report suggests, the period of 2015 > 2017, (which we are in the middle of right now), is when the driver of “longevity and aging demographics” picks up momentum.

Exciting times to be elevating our thoughts about our Planet Longevity!

 
Mark Venning

Financials, Across our Life Course: Fusion and Confusion of Terminology – Part 3

fusionFinancial planning. Financial security. Financial literacy. Financial gerontology. Is it any wonder there is confusion with all this terminology floating in our heads? Not to forget the fusion. As we complete our current series on this subject, maybe it’s not a coincidence that we are now entering the year-end income tax season in Canada.

You can count on a barrage of advertising and news editorials to start any time now, reminding consumers about their retirement plan contributions and other related financial considerations. Turning our concern to personal financials however, should not be a once a year high anxiety moment; nor is it strictly a retirement discussion. Attention to financials issues cuts across our life course.

As a financial planning consultant, Marie says in part one of this series (Nov.30, 2015), personal financial planning is the process of helping individuals and families to use their income and assets to be meet their life goals now and in the future. In that same post, as the researcher and social gerontologist, Suzanne adds that economic and financial issues are important in people’s lives on the journey of aging, but they are also important as public policy issues.

Financial gerontology – public policy issue

Sticking with this term financial gerontology, Marie picks up here by saying that in the macro sense it is an urgent public policy issue. Financial gerontology should become the study of aging and the implementation of measures that will meet the needs of Canadas’ aging demographic. For example, financial, psychological, and general health planning to encompass all citizens from native peoples to immigrant and ethnic communities. The risk is that it will become yet another means of marketing financial products.

The problems associated with an aging demographic are not confined to governments to solve. To be sure, there are roles for all levels of government, but there are also roles for dedicated private groups and for individuals and families. Older adults must also be part of finding their own solutions.

Since we have scarce resources, what is the best use of public monies to meet the unique needs of an aging population? Given the shift and size of aging demographics, it would be very easy to allocate too many scarce resources to satisfying the needs of the aged at the expense of younger people. For example, reducing education funding for younger taxpayers. In consideration of how to determine the best use of these public resources for everyone, would it not be more beneficial that we have a creative inter-generational dialogue?

If financial gerontology is a society-wide, broadly based approach to the costs of aging, then personal financial planning is the specifically focused approach to an individual’s finances – whether they are young or old.

Improving public awareness of how these two professional fields work, (both separately and in fusion), is the challenge, and worth repeating, says Suzanne – financial and economic issues, such as low-income seniors, pension plans and retirement savings are gerontological issues, and they are important personal and public policy issues. Financial security is important for quality of life, and this cuts across our entire life course. However, quality of life goes beyond financial considerations.

Financial & gerontological collaborations

So how do we square the circle around the potential good coming from financial & gerontological collaborations? Let’s go back to the American Institute for Financial Gerontology and their aim to educate a Registered Financial Gerontologist (RFG) on how to “deliver financial solutions in a comprehensive manner with increased knowledge of the older client’s broad based needs.”

There is one significant difference where we say, Suzanne suggests, develop innovative ways on how to better serve “unique needs”, as opposed to deliver solutions to “broad based needs”. Terminology again. When you serve, you determine needs and respond; it is person focused. When you deliver solutions, you provide a product.

So is it possible to effectively combine Financial + Gerontology for older adults; or is it better that two different specialists are required for older client’s broad based needs?
From Marie’s viewpoint as a financial planning consulting – good advisors keep themselves up to date on developments in the financial world, and on general issues of aging, from senior housing to risk prevention in public and private spaces.

But the financial advisor is not in a position to give comprehensive advice about such things as behavioural issues, or health impacts on communities. The gerontologist can offer good background information to the financial advisor, just as the financial planner can offer realistic advice on basic financial issues for the benefit of the gerontologist.

We live in a world of specialization – mainly because there is so much knowledge out there that we cannot be effective if we try to offer services beyond our competency. Keeping up with our own specialties is a full time job!

We are also in the world of collaboration! That is the joy of thinking and writing this series together.
Marie Howes & Suzanne Cook

Aging and longevity, a privileged experience.

As we look ahead into our third year at Planet Longevity, there is no doubt that the major themes around aging and longevity will continue to evolve from the ones we looked at in 2015. Topics like Inter-generational Connectivity and Age-Friendly Communities were frequently at the centre of our conversation generated here on our bi-weekly blog.

While we consider all this we should put into perspective the fact that though familiar, heavily discussed social and economic issues related to aging demographics (e.g. health care investments, pension reforms) will be ongoing for many years to come, we need to consider such issues as they unfold, alongside other immediate global realities that are currently adding to our challenges.

For example, right now, as we close out this year, the global refugee migration and resettlement crisis of over a million people is at the highest level it has been in about seventy years. The question is, for parts of the world like Europe, with high youth unemployment and an already high proportion of an elder population; how will this enormous tragedy be acknowledged and managed going forward?

Somehow this question, layered into other conversations on difficult world issues, will no doubt be at play into 2016. As we celebrate and promote an age-friendly society, let us not forget how positive aging and longevity is a privileged experience for those of us more fortunate and able to articulate it – and with systems and policies designed to better achieve it.

Perhaps the disruptive realities of millions of people on the other side of the world, are often perceived as being at a comfortable screen-distance away. But these events are not that distant, and neither will the next speed-driven twenty years be, as the world population experiences demographic shifts which may not turn out to be exactly as we project or envision.

It is with this in mind that we still need to encourage more innovations responsive to the changing dynamics of communities, inclusive of the needs of all ages and diverse cultural backgrounds. I have a strange suspicion that the outlooks we take in the future, on adapting for an aging society, will require even more of a demand for a global perspective. Is that perchance why we call this group – Planet Longevity?

With a sense of good will and purpose … and a serious amount of good fortune, as Theodore Roszak once said, “longevity will outlast the Boomers.”

Best wishes for the New Year – 2016!

 

Mark Venning

Murky Waters in an Aging World: Fusion and Confusion of Terminology – Part 1

As general public awareness of the evolutionary story of aging demographics has increased over the last ten years, so too has the hyperactive dialogue about the social challenges we may face as a result. Yet the narrative of an aging world has spun new knowledge and innovations, positive attitudes and approaches to living a healthier longer life, and along with all that – new market opportunities.

It has also brought a new hybrid of language and, if not quite a fusion of professional fields of practice, certainly collaborations. One of the benefits of our Planet Longevity panel is that we have created a platform where the expertise and insights we bring from our individual practice areas helps inform each other in this fusion; and ideally helping others, we distill the complexities in the discussion on aging and longevity. Sort out the confusion of terminology if you will.

fusionSo where can we start here, to examine where some of this fusion and confusion exists?

Financial + Gerontology = ?

At first reading, never mind murky waters, you might think the fusion of these two terms, financial and gerontology are oceans apart.

How, individually, are these two practice areas defined? What happens if you try to couple these two established professional practices, when taken separately they are still largely not that well understood by the everyday person?

Enter Suzanne Cook, researcher and social gerontologist; and Marie Howes, financial planning consultant. We decided to ask each other first to clear up in uncomplicated terms what each of our professions is about and give you a sense of our particular focus. Let Suzanne start.

As a researcher who studies aging, let me begin by saying that as an interdisciplinary field, gerontology (the study of the biological, psychological, and social aspects of aging and older people) consists of many disciplines such as health, psychology, sociology, education, law and political science, to name a few.

Gerontologists work as practitioners on the front line with individuals. In addition, gerontologists can work within public policy and social planning. Within organizations, they can be involved in program development and evaluation. Gerontologists might also consult and conduct research, as I enjoy doing.

Traditionally, the financial aspects of aging have been a bit on the periphery within the study of aging, a part of gerontology and issues of aging, but not in the forefront. A great example of this is the lack of attention generally paid to later life work and career development among older adults, which is the focus of my research and work in the field.

Regardless, financial and economic issues, such as low-income seniors, pension plans and retirement savings, are gerontological issues, and are important personal and public policy issues. Furthermore, the importance of economic and financial issues in people’s lives on the journey of aging, but also as public policy issues, is further demonstrated through economics and financial management courses being included in many gerontology programs.

Let the fusion begin

This is where the fusion becomes interesting in an aging world. The ripples on the water in this conversation, pool closer when we both speak of the increasing importance of economic and financial issues connected with aging in our society. Marie picks up this linkage by looking at the micro process of personal financial planning.

As a financial planning consultant, my current focus is on challenging current standards for health care funding and delivery methods, and my other concern is about the regulation of financial and investment advisors as related to consumer rights.

Personal financial planning is the process of helping individuals and families to use their income and assets to be meet their life goals now and in the future. The objective is that these goals will be met through the implementation of cash flow management, risk avoidance plans, investment planning, tax strategies and estate planning.

Over the last ten years, personal financial planning has seen innovation in financial products needed by individuals to meet their goals – especially in investment products. For example, Exchange Traded Funds have become a lower cost alternative to mutual funds. But product developers have also added complexity to the product offerings. There has also been a trend toward “fee-based” financial planning, which can blur the distinction between “advice only” and “advice tied to product sales and compensation”.

The gap in public understanding of personal financial planning is in confusing financial planning with investment planning and the purchase of investment products. Many people think that financial planning means buying GICs or mutual funds. That is investment planning and implementation. True personal financial planning does include investment planning and the purchase of investment products, BUT it is a much broader process.

A much broader process indeed. As more of our thoughts turn to forward thinking on aging issues, it will be even more so when you begin to include the equation question Financial + Gerontology = ?

Next in part two of our series Fusion and Confusion, we will look at the current roll out of that equation and share our thoughts on what this means professionally, and how it may sit in the consumer mindset as they make decisions in their future life course.

 
Suzanne Cook & Marie Howes

Cautionary Tales of Aging & Shared Vulnerability

For our future selves, what more do we need to learn every day – from those cautionary tales of aging, particularly from those who are the older of the old in their later life journey? It should be enough for each of us to take notice, when you take into account aging demographics, curving upward as they are over the next few decades, that we are all going to have to be smarter about making our longevity as financially sound, as it is socially and healthily sound.

One of the longevity intersections, between health and financial, was highlighted in an October 2015 report by Mark Lachs, MD, MPH of Weill Cornell Medical College, New York and S. Duke Han PhD of Rush University Medical Center, Chicago. Published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, Lachs and Han propose a new concept they have named AAFV“age associated financial vulnerability” to describe a classic issue typically associated with an older persons’ declining ability to manage their financial affairs.

From our professional and personal experience, we can attest first-hand to what any reader here could share from their own stories of helping elder family members or friends. Obvious issues like dementia and other impairments to health can lead to a family or friend intervention, where help with personal financial matters is necessary. Often as we know, the intervention arrives too late and a sudden encounter with a problem like elder fraud can add to the mountain of worry.

Micro and macro financial accountability

There are two levels of help to consider here. One is the micro; the day-to-day management of finances and the other is the macro, such as decision making for longer-term investment strategies. In this video link on Senior Care Options website, Mary Ellen’s interview with financial investment expert Dan Richards, President of Client Insights, highlights in an easily digestible way, the very basics of what people need to consider in this cautionary tale.

One point made in the opening of the Lachs and Han paper states: “even cognitively intact older adults can have ‘functional’ changes that may render them financially vulnerable”. Apart from cognitive decline, two of these potential vulnerability areas for older adults are loneliness/social isolation and, perhaps due to lack of judgment, exposure to opportunistic marketing or “up-selling” of financial investment plans that may not meet the realistic needs of the individual.

The report makes for an educational and thought provoking read that in our minds, really elevates the importance of accountability for observing the symptoms of AAFV, not just for those in the medical community, but for all family members, community care workers, private elder care providers and financial planning advisors. This opens up a broader conversation about understanding the intersection between financial planning and gerontology, which our colleagues, Marie Howes and Suzanne Cook will discuss in upcoming posts.

And a shared vulnerability

Here though, we propose there is an increased social need for advanced learning programs as early as possible, starting at least at the secondary school level, to include financial literacy within recognition of changes in family dynamics; where helping to manage the health and financial affairs of aging parents or grandparents is now becoming an essential life skill.

Who typically is the catalyst in the conversation between the older parent and the financial or legal professionals? The children. How do they begin the open talk about financial affairs while respecting the privacy and independence of the parent? Not always easily or that open. When do these AAFV risk moments arrive most often? In a sudden crisis.

Yet, while you may think you have all the right processes in place for a crisis, there are unmentioned shifts in decisions that happen on the part of the older parent, and the children responsible are vulnerable due to incomplete communication, not knowing for example how the macro financial picture may have changed.

An unprepared, or for that matter even a well-prepared caregiver, with or without P.O.A. responsibilities, can both have exposure to the risks of “age associated financial vulnerability”. So, operating on the premise that “a good precaution is never wasted”, a financially sound longevity plan will incrementally change at different stages of a family life cycle, and in that sense, we all have shared accountability, and a shared vulnerability if we are not well prepared.

 

Mary Ellen Tomlinson & Mark Venning

A Holistic Approach to Healthy Aging.

With spring finally here, what a great time to announce that I was the first guest on the new weekly show called Why Our Seniors Matter launched May 4th, 2015 on ListenUp Talk Radio where my interview focused on a holistic approach to healthy aging. While this show will cover a range of topics of broad interest in the daily lives of seniors, it seems perfectly fitting to open with this holistic view.

Over the next thirteen weeks, the Why Our Seniors Matter show will feature many practical matters from finance to fitness, but they all tie in to one or more of the eight aspects of the holistic healthy aging – social, cognitive, physical, psychological, spiritual, purposeful work, financial and environmental.

In my progress, through my work as a gerontologist and educator, my focus has been on supporting a new vison of aging – healthy aging that is not only out of concern for the old but also for their families which makes all this truly an “inter-generational” new vision.

As I mentioned in the Talk Radio interview, there are gaps in how we provide information on aging matters directly to seniors in the community, and there will be a growing demand on family members of all ages to become an integral part of that information food chain as the aging demographic curve rises over the next two decades.

Furthermore, we require new ways of providing information and resources to those who need it. Communities and municipalities as well as businesses serving seniors can do a lot to shape the way information about seniors’ services and resources is presented. Lack of awareness is one issue but equally important is timely information provision.

Many older adults have complex needs and the best way to meet them is to enhance information, including knowledge of resources and tools. Better information provision is a key way to build an age-friendly society.

Coming up in June is Seniors’ Month in Ontario. Listening in to the Why Our Seniors Matter radio show is timely and as it happens all this coincides with our Planet Longevity theme of inter-generational connections as part of what makes a healthier age friendly community; all viewed in that holistic approach.
Suzanne Cook

Community Home Care: Hope & Reality – 3

Part 3: Solutions, Home Care as one part of Health Care

Solutions to the issue of elder care, whether as part of “community home care” or the broader matter of frail, ill elders needing institutional care, are part of the need to consider radical changes to our health care system in general. The Commonwealth Institute think-tank, ranks Canada dead last amongst the 11 top advanced nations in terms of timely health care access by its citizens. Timely acute care access is lacking, and so is access to long-term care.

Part of the solution lies in creating new funding models for Canadian health care: systems that have already proven successful in the other 10 leading health care jurisdictions. All have a mix of public and private funding and facilities.
Some possible means of changing Canada’s “government as gatekeeper/payer” system include the following ideas:

• Phase out “pay as you go” funding (payments from current general government revenues) and replace it with revenue generated from an investment or insurance entity modeled on the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board. The smaller number of taxpayers in the future will not be able to pay for health and other services for the looming bulge of aging Boomers if the current funding method remains.

• Bring back tax incentives such as the Multiple Unit Residential Building program (MURB). Target the construction of universal access, single or multiple family residences, and long-term/chronic care residential/medical facilities, which would reduce the pressure on acute care hospitals currently warehousing patients who cannot live at home.

• Adapt ideas from the successful systems of the nine other countries with better health care outcomes. Start a meaningful discussion of alternatives. Begin by discounting the “straw man” argument that any discussion of change in Canadian Medicare means “American health care”. No one proposes American health care.

• Consider introducing “medical savings accounts” for all Canadians. It would be a voucher system where each Canadian can spend on either public OR private health care services. Special funding would be provided for chronic or exceptional cases. This was first proposed in 2002, in a paper presented by the Fraser Institute.

• Ensure that publicly funded health care programs have elements of self-funding. Require that the means test for government payments includes the value of assets not just cash flow. Many people have substantial assets that could be used to pay for services they need – yet they can access subsidies because they have low cash flow, currently the main criteria for assistance.

• Channel more medical students into specialties such as geriatrics and areas related to caring for aging Canadians. It costs over $1 million to educate a doctor in Canada. Surely, it is reasonable to expect medical practitioners to work in critical fields. There is also a shortage of medical technicians. Incentives are needed to boost their numbers, too.

• Encourage philanthropic investments in communities across Canada through special charitable donation credits for the construction and maintenance of senior and disabled-friendly residences and care facilities. Palliative care centres need to be part of this initiative. Many religious and ethnic communities have already begun providing these facilities. As a corollary, beef up the health and safety inspection of residences for seniors in care, and make penalties meaningful.

• In Norway, local municipalities are responsible for getting patients out of acute care hospitals and into innovative, long-term care facilities. Daily fines for non-compliance help focus administrators on achieving results. (Local municipalities do receive increased funding for their role in these services.) Canada and its provinces could learn from this.

Are these revolutionary ideas? Yes, but the need for discussion is urgent.

Marie Howes

Planet Longevity: Celebrating 1st Anniversary!

Actually in a way, it was in September 2012 that the eight of us came together to form what became Planet Longevity and our web site went up with our first bi-weekly blog post Feb.2 2014. Heading into our second year, as a thought leadership panel, we will focus on specific aspects under the theme:

“Age Friendly Community, Inter-generational Connections.”

As an example of one of these aspects, our Planet Longevity panelist Suzanne Cook teaches a Sociology of Aging course developed at York University, where Inter-generational Learning is experienced; eight older adults joining students in their 20’s, which is an innovative method of linking these generations. Suzanne also presented on this topic at the Canadian Association on Gerontology conference in October last year.

So much more underscores this theme of “age friendly” when it comes to things like designing community neighbourhoods, understanding the shared investment in the delivery of appropriate home/health care and not to forget, how financial literacy crosses the life course – not just retirement nest egg planning.

In addition, we will continue to track Canadian and international initiatives to share perspectives on how various parts of the world are forward thinking on aging issues. It’s a global demographic shift of considerable measure in some regions more than others, and the way each community positively reshapes the longevity narrative for future generations will perhaps be judged useful only if influenced by a more inter-generational conversation.

Thanks to Suzanne Cook, Mary Ellen Tomlinson, Sandra Downey, Lorraine Clemes, Marie Howes, Jill Jukes and Gerald Bramm for contributing to the ongoing idea generation, research, marketing and blogging for the group. Happy Anniversary to us!

 

Mark Venning

Global Scenarios for an Era of Longevity

“How we live in an era of longevity – the miracle bequeathed to us from 20th century advances… paradoxically creates several challenges…” Dr. Michael Hodin, Executive Director, Global Coalition on Aging

In about three short weeks (Feb.9, 2015) in London at Chatham House, The Royal Institute of International Affairs will host an event titled “Ageing & Health: Policy & Health in an Era of Longevity”. The speakers are from an A-list of international experts in the subject area of Global Aging & Longevity. Dr. Michael Hodin is the Chair of the opening session on Adjusting to Population Aging. His observations and insights are always well balanced and engaging.

One of the other excellent speakers I have heard speak here in Canada at the Sheridan Centre for Elder Research is Dr. Alexandre Kalache, Co-President of the International Longevity Centre. He is leading the session focused on Health Priorities for Aging Populations. A Canadian-based speaker on the Chatham House program is Jane Barratt, Secretary General of the International Federation on Ageing. She is also a Board Member of Toronto’s Baycrest Centre.

While all these conversations on aging and health generate discussion at a higher level with global thought leaders in the front row at Chatham House, the next important level to reach with this conversation may be more of a walk down the steps, to the street level – the park bench, the coffee shop.

Every-day people are experiencing the “miracles and the challenges” of this era of longevity and they are talking; and even if it is pure individual storytelling, listening as I do to the “on the street story”, the gathering volume of evidence suggests that people are looking for new realistic options; not just re-tinkered public policies based on an older-framed narrative.

As we look at the obvious needs that are projected in our 21st century global scenarios (whether that’s 2020 or 2040), what the individual needs help with right now is how they can better understand their immediate aging & health circumstance, in a non-complex way within the context of that bigger picture. Consequently, if you are a business, a government or an NGO, you should engage the aging and health conversation with every-day people from a position not of fear of financial burden but cross-generational social investment.

And one thing not to forget, is that this macro trend of aging & longevity exists alongside several major global scenarios that dominate headlines, and somehow they are all interconnected economically, politically and socially.
Mark Venning

Longevity & Community Care – 1

Of this longevity conscious age, one could say that the grand narrative related to aging demographics has more than one story line – and how these all converge and involve everyone of all ages, does require forward thinking. Building on opportunity for this age of longevity will require respect for each age cohort in society. There is a place for everyone at every stage of life.

We formed Planet Longevity as a thought leadership panel and our vision was – put the wider conversation out there; influence, enlighten and challenge assumptions around how we all will actually adapt to the experience of aging and longevity in a foreseeable future.

If you want to change the narrative on a longevity issue that you care about, and ensure your message is listened to positively – and make a call to action for support of your cause; then you put that message up front so you don’t distract.

One of the key longevity story lines is community care. Planet Longevity wants to get out in front of that conversation and support others in their efforts to create a proactive model. But frankly speaking, we don’t think framing the story around the verbiage of ageism is helpful. It’s too easy to pluck on those strings and distract from making a positive pitch.

So when we read Carol Goar’s Dec.9 piece in the Toronto Star “Senior citizens are mobilizing against ageism.” about the group Care Watch, we could only ask, are they taking a step back with this angle in the narrative on community care?

From a marketing communications point of view, we think this distracts from what positive contributions Care Watch is able to make. Their website tagline is Advocating Quality Home & Community Care.” After that, the home page loses it impact to positively engage whatever target audiences it may have, by currently focusing their AGM message ‘Mobilizing Against Ageism”.

Care Watch could actually benefit from dusting off its brand message. Reach out with its big ask for us to help “advocate” for its real purpose, by speaking more to a greater mass – the Boomer audience, many of whom are in care-giving mode with older parents and also have children who are the future cross-generational participants in home and community care giving.

The aging demographic curve is still in motion and will be for many years to come. Our wish for Care Watch leaders, given all the ages and stages that you have lived through, is use the constructive value of your knowledge and experience to mobilize wider support.

 

Mark Venning & Mary Ellen Tomlinson