2017 ended on a sad note with the passing of a great friend to the AAA and genuine legend - Professor Heinz Wolff. We could dedicate this whole article to Professor Wolff’s achievements, but let us simply say that he inspired us all to think different and reminded us not to be dazzled by technology and lose sight of the human factor. Doing so with a wonderful sense of mischief.
The Guardian’s obituary touches on the many positions he held throughout his lifetime, but if you have a few moments then why not watch this video from 2015 of him wowing a young audience on the properties of liquid nitrogen.
Join the ‘A Team’
Continuing this spirit of thinking different, we recently announced an experimental creative workshop AAA is staging, in partnership with Innovate UK and Enterprise Europe Network in Brussels on January 25th. The event unites trans-disciplinary researchers, thinking about disruptive digital solutions that can support older individuals in being and staying actively involved in professional life for longer.
This is a unique opportunity to help rethink the very notion of work life and retirement, but if you need further incentive then you might like to know the European Commission is offering between 3 and 4 million Euros to fund collaborative proposals which would allow this challenge to be addressed appropriately.
Before you consider your application however, take a moment to enjoy the most popular stories we shared this month, featuring inspiring people and organisations challenging the status quo.
More Life in Your Years
We kick off with this article from the NY Times introducing more indomitable figures like Professor Wolff. Professionals who aren’t letting age diminish their desire to work - some well into their 90s. We meet people like senior Federal District Court judge in New York Jack B. Weinstein, who at 96, still rises at 5.30 am to begin a full day's work. In his own words; “Retire? I’ve never thought of retiring”.
According to the article; “Judge Weinstein was first appointed to the bench more than 50 years ago and is still in the thick of hot-button issues in the courts. Weinstein continued; “I’m a better judge, in some respects, than when I was younger. I don’t remember names. But I listen more. And I’m more compassionate. I see things from more angles. If you are doing interesting work, you want to continue”.
This is a message everyone should hear. Find something you believe in and it will keep you young, no matter your age. You’ll need to stay healthy though, a matter Greg Fell, Director of Public Health in Sheffield addressed in this excellent blog for NHSE.
A Healthy Approach to Life
In the media, there are many doom-laden terms used when describing ageing, one being the ‘ageing tsunami’ heading our way. Ian Spero wrote about this very subject in his blog “The Elderly” = Doom, Gloom and Alarm. It’s Time to Press Reset.
Agreeing this misguided view of ageing causes harm, Greg states that in fact "…the problem is not that we are living longer but that we are not getting healthier". The answer, Greg believes, is what he calls a life course strategy; "…an active population-level response to supporting people to be as healthy as possible at all life stages".
To achieve this however, Greg says there are many challenges we must first overcome. Hurdles such as ageism in political and financial thinking, over reliance on medicine, the size and perceived importance of the challenge and the current lack of a positive public-facing narrative.
AAA’s work, and indeed very existence is based on the belief these issues can be tackled. Because, as Greg says; “Ageing is inevitable but also malleable”. So, as we look around for signs of how our society views ageing, how else might we gauge our direction of travel? Perhaps by following the money. These two popular articles revealed quite different realities.
The first, is from Inside Philanthropy - “It's a Coming Tsunami. Which Funders Are Confronting an Aging America?” Yet again we see the very cliché just mentioned, but the article does offer hope by introducing us to some of the US foundations using their wealth to improve the lives of older people in America.
The challenge they face however, according to John Feather CEO of Grantmakers in Aging, is that “Americans don’t like to think of themselves as aging”, which according to the article “applies to trustees that direct funding, many of whom are older, too”.
Part of Grantmakers’ solution is to help foundations see how they can include older adults in the fields they work in already, rather than needing to convince them to start again with a new funding stream. Said John; “If you work in housing, or if you work in health, or you work in transportation, you inevitably work with older people… Taking the needs of older people into account makes a community better for everyone”.
With only 2% of all philanthropic giving in the US going to older people, it’s interesting to consider what could encourage more of this money being spent on older adults. What if they were going to be around for many, many more years to come?
According to this article from Bitsonline; "Anti-aging research body the SENS Foundation has received a donation of $1 million USD in BTC thanks to the Pineapple Fund, a philanthropic organization that gives out donations in bitcoin. The SENS Foundation is a non-profit organization dedicated to the medical concept of 'negligible senescence'. In layman’s terms, this means the pursuit of a complete and total cure for aging".
SENS Foundation is just one of several research bodies now looking to help (let’s be honest, some) people live ‘forever’. But do we really need a 'cure' for ageing? Can’t we instead invest that money in ways to make living a long and fulfilled life more achievable for the many? To put life in our years rather than years in our life. And shouldn’t we hold up people like Professor Wolff and Judge Weinstein as fantastic examples of how passion and curiosity about the world around us plays its part?
We believe so. So, as we continue our work, and share the best stories on twitter about helping more people be actively involved in life for longer, all that’s left to say is have a fantastic 2018.
Until next month, #BeAgile!
Image used with permission. Copyright Alex Harvey.