"When I'm 84…."

Related topics: Mental and Emotional Health, Financial Planning, Brain Health, Senior Lifestyles

Motivating younger people to plan for their senior years.

When we're young, many of us seem somehow convinced that we will never be old. Why is that? We see photos of our own parents and grandparents from before we were born, and of course we know that older adults don't just materialize. Perhaps it is just human nature to think in the moment.

As young adults, we value physical and mental health, independence, relationships, security, experiences, and the ability to pursue our interests. Yet if we fail to plan ahead, we're less likely to enjoy those same things once we reach our senior years.

How can we encourage young and middle-age people to plan for their later years—in a sense, to take care of their older selves? Experts are studying ways to provide perspective in a number of areas:

Health. Seniors can take steps to improve their health. But a host of studies show that waiting until then isn't the best strategy! How can medical experts motivate young and middle-age people to change behaviors such as inactivity, poor diet, smoking, sleep deprivation and drinking too much alcohol—lifestyle choices with bad effects that might not show up for years? One way is to emphasize the specific payoffs of healthy behaviors. For example, neurologists are promoting the value of music education for children, which has been linked with a lower risk of Alzheimer’s in later years. And the American College of Cardiology is trying to spread the word that people who reach the age of 45 without having developed obesity, high blood pressure or diabetes are less likely to have heart disease. Study author Dr. Faraz Ahmad of Northwestern University says, "It's a much more powerful message when you're talking to patients in their 30s or 40s, to say that they will be able to live 11 to 13 years longer without heart failure if they can avoid developing these risk factors now."

Financial Planning. For younger people, saving for retirement—versus buying a house or a car, or taking a dream vacation—is an exercise in delayed gratification. Money is usually tight when we're starting our careers, yet the sooner we begin saving, the more time our money has to grow. Using a simple retirement calculator can demonstrate the power of time in growing our nest egg; here's one from CNN Money. Innovative "age progression" technologies also help people visualize their older selves. For example, check out the Merrill Edge "Face Retirement" website, where users can see their photos morphed to retirement age. A European company has taken things a step further, developing a technology where young people can "talk" with their future selves.

Living Choices. The Center for Retirement Research (CRC) at Boston College says, "Older people often wonder why young adults get tattoos that they'll later want to remove." Will the choices we make when we're younger—where to live, relationships, career and lifestyle—support the kind of life we want as an older adult? The CRC has posted a short, enlightening video talk by psychologist Dan Gilbert. Gilbert says that while we easily acknowledge that our needs and wants have changed over the years, it's harder to envision that they will continue to change. He reminds us, "Human beings are works in progress that mistakenly think they're finished."

Attitude. Many young people today are passionately committed to social justice for everyone, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, disabilities or other traits. Yet many younger people who wouldn't dream of making a racist or sexist comment will make derogatory remarks about seniors. How will this attitude affect their own aging? Ageism has been described as "prejudice against one's future self." Research shows that younger people who hold negative attitudes about older adults are less likely to be healthy in their own later years. Ageism motivates some people to ignore the basics of healthy aging while pursuing cosmetic surgery and expensive yet useless "anti-aging" products, in an attempt to ward off aging entirely. Many groups today are working to promote more positive images of aging, which has benefits for people of every age.

We can't predict what the future will hold for us. Perhaps we will remain relatively healthy into old age. Perhaps we will meet physical or cognitive challenges. What will not change is our desire for autonomy and a sense of well-being. Planning for physical, emotional and financial health is the best way to be kind to our future selves.

Deciding where to live is an important planning task. Will our house still meet our needs as we grow older? Read the next article, "Is Your Home Suited for Aging in Place?" to learn more!

Source: IlluminAge Communication Partners; copyright 2015 IlluminAge.

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