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The Future Age:
Life Reimagined
Tune into The Future Age podcast, where we explore creative solutions in reimagining what life could look like as we get older. Topics include: the future of work, transportation, 3D printed homes, aging and AI, agetech, and more.
Listen Now
The Future Age: Life Reimagined
Tune into The Future Age podcast, where we explore creative solutions in reimagining what life could look like as we get older. Topics include: the future of work, transportation, 3D printed homes, aging and AI, agetech, and more.
Listen Now

What is the Future of Aging?

Episode Summary

Join Zannat Reza as she demystifies the complexity of aging in today's world.

In this episode of The Future Age, we delve into the captivating subject of aging, uncovering a side that is often unexplored in popular culture. The discussion kicks off with author Carl Honoré as they dissect the societal view of aging, revealing the nuances of the U-shaped happiness curve and how it drastically redefines our perception of happiness in older adulthood. The conversation spotlights the importance of a mindset shift, underlining the crucial role that society has in shaping narratives around aging.

As the episode progresses, the discussion takes a more pragmatic turn with the entrance of Shirlee Sharkey, the former CEO of SE Health. Focused on the tangible aspect of aging, the conversation explores universal home care, shedding light on how societies can become more age-friendly. Sharkey emphasizes the need for home care, illustrating the potential of adopting successful international models. The discussion also addresses the challenges and criticisms of implementation, before rounding off with an insightful look into the potential future of aging. This episode of The Future Age not only enlightens but also offers a thought-provoking perspective on aging in the modern world.

Show Notes

Carl Honoré, author of "Bolder", and Zannat Reza uncover the U-shaped happiness curve and its implications for life satisfaction among older adults during this episode of The Future Age. The discussion moves to actionable strategies with Shirlee Sharkey, as they explore the concept of universal home care, and discuss how societies can adapt to support a flourishing older population.

Episode Guests

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Carl Honoré

Broadcaster & Author, Bolder

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Shirlee Sharkey

Board Member, Advisor, & President, SS Consulting

Episode Transcript

[00:00:00] Zannat Reza: We're halfway through our first season, and we've explored some cool and specific things related to aging, like the rise of 3D printed houses, what's new in agetech, and why it's time to retire the concept of retirement. But for this episode, we're going to zoom out a bit, get a little philosophical and ask a big question. What is the future of aging?

[00:00:20] So when you think about yourself in the next 5, 10, 20 years, and beyond, what do you picture? Someone who is vibrant and connected to their community, or someone who's frail and in decline?

I'm Zannat Reza. Welcome to the Future Age podcast, where we explore creative solutions in reimagining what life could look like as we get older.

[00:00:39] For this episode, you're in for a treat. We have two special guests who've spent a lot of time reimagining the future of aging, both theoretically and practically. First, I spoke to Carl Honoré, broadcaster, Ted Talk speaker, and author of the book, Bolder: Making the Most of Our Longer Lives. The book is described as a radical rethink about aging.

[00:00:59] [00:01:00] According to Carl, the motivation to write this book came from a personal existential crisis he experienced about getting older. Here's part of our conversation.

[00:01:13] Carl Honoré: So I was playing in a hockey tournament in England, and my team, we were locked in a zero -zero tie with another team that we had annihilated the year before. But we just couldn't get that goal to get us into the semi-finals. And then out of nowhere, I scored that goal. But it wasn't just any goal, right?

[00:01:30] It was a total highlight reel goal. I will be reliving that goal on my deathbed years from now, and getting goosebumps, as I have now retelling it. And I came off, out of that game, feeling like a superstar, right? I was walking on air and then out of nowhere, one of the tournament advisors sidled up me and he said, "You know what? Good goal man, way to go. But I've been looking through tournament profiles of players and it turns out you're the oldest player here. "

[00:01:57] And it's funny, I mean, I knew I was one of the oldest, right? I'm not deluded, but somehow, to be the oldest of 240 players just completely rocked me to my foundations.

[00:02:06] Suddenly, within the blink of an eye, I went from, goal scored to granddad. And all these questions began crowding in like, are people laughing at me behind my back? Do I look out of place here? Should I take up a more age appropriate pastime like bingo, maybe?

[00:02:23] And it, it's just an extraordinary moment, because I thought, well, here I am playing well, having fun, doing the thing I've loved doing my whole life. Why should my age suddenly take on this terrible power to slam the door in my face? To tell me what I should and shouldn't be doing, and I thought, that can't be right.

[00:02:41] So, I came away from that tournament thinking, there's got to be a different way of thinking about aging. There has to be a better story to tell about growing older. And spoiler alert, there is.

[00:02:51] Zannat Reza: So it sounds like you have these stereotypes, or a mindset that I can't do X, Y, and Z because I'm this age, and how much of those kinds of attitudes and thoughts actually morph into self-fulfilling prophecies?

[00:03:07] Carl Honoré: That for me was the most astonishing, and in some ways, depressing, things that I came across in the research when I began looking into aging and, and our attitudes to it and ageism,. And that is that, the science is very clear on this, that if you buy into the cult of youth, if you venerate youth, and denigrate aging, [00:03:30] you will age less well, right? You know, you're more likely to suffer physical and cognitive decline. You're more likely to develop dementia. You're more likely to die younger, right, up to seven and a half years younger.

[00:03:42] So, just think about that for a moment, that becoming a card-carrying member of the cult of youth, you know, buying into all of these myths and stereotypes about growing older, we are leaving seven and a half years of life on the table. I mean, that's just mind blowing, right? So what that says, if you boil it down to simple language, a one word take, is that ageism, or buying into the cult of youth, is the ultimate act of self-harm.

[00:04:06] Zannat Reza: Yeah, no, absolutely. You know, it's one of these things, so I recently read that article about, if you think positively about getting older, you will actually live longer. And you know, recently, I turned 50 and the conversation at our book club was, “Oh my gosh, how are you feeling about that?”

I'm like, “I actually feel great.”

[00:04:25] Now you talk about the cult of youth, so how do we un-embrace this culture, where youth is kind of venerated, and is the standard?

[00:04:36] Carl Honoré: Well, I think there are lots of things we can do to take down the ageist industrial complex, if you like. I think a starting point, is to run public campaigns that challenge the idea that, younger is always better, and that aging is somehow a grim, bleak, downward spiral of decline and dementia, when it's clearly not.

[00:04:57] You know, we've had campaigns against sexism, campaigns against homophobia, all kinds of campaigns, yet we've never really had a proper full-blown campaign, that pushes out into every corner of public life and says, hang on a minute here, there's a different and better way to think about aging. But then, there are many things that we can all do individually I think.

[00:05:14] It's important to change the visual landscape that we exist in, right? So I, I think time has come to wallpaper the world with images of people smashing it in later life and, and that's already happening. If [00:05:30] you go onto social media, Instagram, for instance, every day, people are uploading videos and photos showing their version of being 40 something, 50 something, 60, 78, a hundred something.

[00:05:42] And guess what? Those versions are radically different from the dominant narrative, from the message that we are always being pelted with, which is that, aging is somehow a punishment, curse, a disease, something to recoil from in horror, because people are showing that, that's not true. That is, with a little luck and the right attitude, any age can be a time of romance, vigor, purpose, work, creativity, love, excitement, adventure, right?

[00:06:09] And so, the more each and every one of us chooses to tell our own good news story about growing older, the easier it becomes for everyone else to imagine their future looking more upbeat. So we're all in this together, we all have skin in the game.

[00:06:22] Zannat Reza: In your TED Talk, you mentioned a few examples of people who are knocking it out of the park as they get older, and I'm thinking, David Attenborough, Vera Wang. What are a few other examples?

[00:06:35] Carl Honoré: Well, one that always comes to mind when people talk about creativity, and really bringing it in the workplace, is a man by the name of John Goodenough. And he's got a story that really maps well onto this whole question of aging and attitudes to aging, and the idea of age being a straitjacket.

[00:06:52] So years ago, when John Goodenough turned up at, a university in the United States at the age of 23, he'd had an unorthodox late teen and early 20 something life. So he arrived a little late, and he wanted to study physics, and the first thing they said to him was," It's too late, physics is a young man's game, you know, that ship has already sailed. "

[00:07:11] And he thought, hang on. So he studied physics, right? Not long later, he helped invent the rechargeable ion battery, right? So he brought it. Many years later, he is still leading a team at the University of Texas in Austin, that is taking batteries to the next level; creative leap after creative leap.

[00:07:30] John Goodenough is a hundred years old, right? So this idea, that, just because of the numbers on your birth certificate, you must hang up your spurs. You must give up on the things that light you up, that you have to step back, and bow your head in shame, is just preposterous, right?

[00:07:47] And there, the world is full of examples that counter it, and more and more, because of course, we are entering now, a golden age of aging. It has never been a better time in human history to get older. The world is wide [00:08:00] open. It's a huge place of possibility for us at any age. And let me just underscore how much of this comes down to the language we use, right?

[00:08:08] You asked me earlier about things we can all do to tackle the ageist industrial complex, and I think one of the first steps for us is all to check our language, right? Because so many of the phrases that are woven into our vernacular tell the same grim story of, aging is decline.

[00:08:22] So you think of, you know, and, and these, these are phrases that trip off the tongue with a self-deprecating smile on our lips, right? We say, well, you [00:08:30] forget something, say, I had a senior moment, right, or I'm feeling my age.

[00:08:34] Or, if you remember something, and are able to contribute, you know, some real first person experience of a political event 20 years ago, people, when they are telling you about that event, they'll say, "Oh, I'm really showing my age here. But, and it's almost like they're saying, "I'm ashamed to have been there, to have lived it, to be able to bring to you firsthand knowledge of what that moment was." When in fact, you should be saying, not showing my age, but showing off my age by being proud of it.

[00:09:00] Zannat Reza: And it's interesting you're talking about the language that we use. I did catch myself a few weeks ago, I was talking about a show from the eighties, and what I said was, "oh, I guess I'm dating myself." By, you know, talking about the show and I thought, why am I saying that? Like, who cares? Like so what that I remember a show from the eighties? Considering that pretty much everyone in the room was probably born in the nineties, but why does that matter, right?

[00:09:23] Carl Honoré: Well, it matters because of that very reason, because the story we are telling ourselves and being told constantly, is that to be older is something to be ashamed of. So, if you are able to remember something firsthand from the eighties, that means you're older than someone who was born in the nineties, so you ought to feel bad about it, but come on, unpack it, and that's just ludicrous.

[00:09:40] Zannat Reza: This really is the age of possibilities, and when we look at startups, people often think, oh, it's a teenager in a garage, tinkering away and has this amazing startup. But, as you look at, okay, who are the people who have successful startups? They're people 40 and beyond, 50 and beyond, right? So it's again, showcasing the amazing possibilities of life beyond 50.

[00:10:06] Carl Honoré: Exactly. And, and this is a good moment to look at the data, right? You know of, of course if you pick up a newspaper or look at TV or glance at magazine covers about entrepreneurship, what do you see? You see, you know, top 20 under 30, or top 30 under 30, you know, it's all, the iconic image of an entrepreneur is, is the Mark Zuckerberg, right? You know, toilng away in his basement, or garage and eating [00:10:30] pizza. And sure, some people do hit those big home runs already on, but that's not the norm, because the data shows very clearly that you're more likely to set up a successful business in middle age, or beyond.

[00:10:41] Zannat Reza: Yeah, exactly. Now, this whole notion of younger is better, actually pits generations against one another. And we know that one of the most powerful strategies to tackle these stereotypes and combat ageism is by having people of different ages hang out together.

[00:10:59] Carl Honoré: Absolutely. I mean, this is something that we've always had throughout human history, is the mixing of the generations. So, people of different ages mingled in the fields, at home, in the market, in the streets, they just, everybody just was everywhere, right? And then we got into the modern era, and we siloed, we started walling people off into little bubbles where everybody was more or less the same age.

[00:11:21] It starts at school, right? Just think of what happens at school. You turn up on the first day of school and everybody in your cohort was born within a nine to 12 month period, right? It's woven right into our existence from day one. And what this does is, it shuts us off from other generations. And what does that do?

[00:11:36] Well, when you don't have contact with other people, what can rush in are the stereotypes, you know, it's so easy to swallow, especially negative stereotypes about people that you have little contact with. And the easiest, the best way to eliminate stereotypes, is to get the, get to know the people being stereotyped, which is why whenever people say to me, you know, you asked earlier, and I gave you a couple of examples for [00:12:00] how to tackle ageism. Always in my top three would be mixing the generations, tearing down those age silos and throwing people together, as you know, human beings have always done through our history, just mixing up together. And not only do you get the payoff of eroding ageist stereotypes, but you also have all kinds of other ancillary benefits.

[00:12:21] Because we know the science is really clear on this, that in the workplace, for instance, that diverse teams, especially teams with a range of ages, Are better at solving [00:12:30] problems, they're more creative, uh, they get, they're just more efficient, they're more productive, they get stuff done better, right? There is a, a magic that is unleashed when you bring the generations together. It's a secret sauce in the workplace, but also elsewhere, right, in people's private lives.

[00:12:45] Zannat Reza: In your book, you talk about the u-shaped happiness curve in relation to getting older. Tell me a little bit more about that.

[00:12:54] Carl Honoré: Yeah, that was one of the things that really fascinated me and raised my spirits as I got into the research on aging, and that is that, if you think of how we conceive of later life, we think of aging as being depressing and sad, right?

[00:13:05] I mean, just look at the words we use to describe older people. We call them, uh, cranky, crotchety, grumpy, but actually that's not true. Human beings follow what's called a U-shaped happiness curve. We start very high in childhood, then we fall steadily until we bottom out in middle age, and then we bounce right back up again afterwards.

[00:13:24] And across the world, and this is across all socioeconomic groups, you find that the adults that report the highest levels of life satisfaction and happiness are the over fifty-fives. One of the things that happens as we grow older, and anyone over the age of 40, I think will recognize this phenomenon, is that as you get older you, you feel less beholden to other people's expectations, or less pressure to tiptoe around their opinions. We don't feel we have to navigate around other people's desires and expectations, we can streamline, we can focus on the stuff that really lights us up, and go with it, and what a gift that is, right? And, and I think that has to be one of the driving forces of the happiness curve.

[00:14:02] Zannat Reza: So this all lines up with the results of a recent survey from the National Institute on Aging that pulled nearly 6,000 Canadians over the age of 50. It found that people over the age of 80 felt the most positive about their experience or expectations of growing older. I mean, how amazing is that? But despite this wave of positivity, there are still many who have negative attitudes towards the idea of getting older.

[00:14:25] Now in an attempt to change some of these negative attitudes, several organizations have joined forces to create the Canadian Coalition Against Ageism, which is spearheaded by the International Longevity Center of Canada. The coalition's goal is to create a national social change movement to combat ageism against older people, while protecting their human rights.

[00:14:45] Now, when it comes to the specifics of rethinking our approach to aging, I turned to Shirlee Sharkey, the former CEO of SE Health. Shirlee's a legend in the Canadian healthcare space who, for over 30 years has been advocating for universal home care, so we can live in our homes as we get older. I started the conversation by asking her what inspired her to co-author the landmark Future of Aging book, which looks at aging holistically, and not just through a healthcare lens.

[00:15:11] Here's what she said.

[00:15:12] Shirlee Sharkey: We felt strongly at SE health that there were opportunities to look at aging and aging well with a much broader lens than we typically look from a healthcare point of view. And we also felt that there was a real [00:15:30] opportunity to examine, not only the physical and health issues, but the social issues, the emotional issues, and to talk about them building on the strengths of people, versus how we typically look at aging as a decline in illness.

[00:15:48] So it is difficult to determine in a broad way of describing how we're aging and how we're aging well, knowing that there are so many variables that impact us as individuals, and also as a population. Aging has been primarily associated as a cost to society, and in particular in healthcare, uh, a burden, where we have over medicalized, over hospitalized and over institutionalized with huge costs, implications, and I would say, dismal outcomes. There is, I think, a whole new way to look at aging as an opportunity, actually for society, for our economy, for our culture, for our family, for our love, for literature.

[00:16:37] So a whole different way to have a starting point to what aging is all about and what aging well is all about.

[00:16:45] Zannat Reza: And so, what do you think are some of the barriers in our society that helps us, or that prevents us from thriving as we get older? I mean, obviously it's very individual; what aging well means to you would be different from someone else, but what are those societal barriers?

[00:17:02] Shirlee Sharkey: Our care models are frozen in time. We look at everything as, your well, you live independently, and then boom, you're in emergency in the hospital and you're institutionalized. So that concept needs to be put on its head with a very different starting point. You know, I think there are some fundamental tipping points.

[00:17:23] For example, in in healthcare, we should have universal home care, simple, full stop. What are we doing? 92% of people live in their homes, they want to be in their homes. We have a patchwork of services throughout this country. Many other countries have demonstrated, that if you really put resources, actually over resource, what a thought, over resource so people can live in their homes and get the care, the information, the intervention that they require, this whole trajectory of emergency room hospital institutionalization profoundly changes. And [00:18:00] we, you know, to, to coin the phrase of SE, we really will create hopeful and happy people, because they'll be living and experiencing the life they want, and the care that they receive in their home environment.

[00:18:14] And this has been a 30 year journey I've been on literally, you know, like screaming from the rooftops.

[00:18:19] Zannat Reza: I totally agree, Shirlee. So how do you make universal home care a reality?

[00:18:23] Shirlee Sharkey: I mean, a very good example, uh, Denmark has shown again and again, with a] real focus on investment for people in their communities, they actually have decreased the need for institutionalization by 30%. We're still under the belief we have to increase the number of beds in institutionalization, but I do think it warrants a consistent, and an intentional approach to policies and practices, and we can't change it up depending what the next crisis is.

[00:19:00] Zannat Reza: What would you say to people who, say, "Everyone talks about Denmark, but Denmark is a small country compared to Canada, they're a much more homogenous population. This cannot work in Canada." What do you say to those people?

[00:19:13] Shirlee Sharkey: I think the issue with Denmark, and many of the other Scandinavian countries, and even some of the European countries, and Japan is the starting point. They actually value the older population, and they value [00:19:30] what their desires and needs are, and respond to them. It's not about the actual nursing home that was created, that nursing home was created, where family was important, where the outside was important, where intergenerational activity was more important than independence. Where they thought through, rather than just surviving in this setting, how do we get everyone to thrive? [00:20:00]

[00:20:00] Zannat Reza: So there's been some progress in Canada to help older adults live at home for longer. But what's really needed are new community living models where health, housing, and social supports are integrated.

[00:20:10] And this means help with managing health conditions, promoting healthy living, navigating the health system, and managing day-to-day living, such as groceries, meal prep and housekeeping. And of course, providing support for caregivers, which is essential to help prevent burnout.

[00:20:26] Now in Ontario, the Oasis Aging-in-Place model is a widely quoted example of the right direction. It promotes programs for healthy eating, physical activity, and fostering social connections. There's also a coordinator who helps connect older adults with health and community services. And an example of bringing health services to people's homes is the H.O.P.E. Model, created by SE Health. It's a neighborhood based model where teams of nurses provide a more integrated and holistic approach that's tailored to people's needs, including coordinating care, and referring people to social supports.

[00:20:58] The Home is Best initiative in BC, believes that being at home and not the hospital, is the best place to continue recovery from an illness or injury. There are regular home visits from a community health worker and referrals to rehab services. The challenge is that many of these services are pilot programs, or small in scale, and it's difficult to get long-term funding.

[00:21:18] We need a shift in value so that decision makers recognize the importance of these services and commit to ongoing funding. I asked Shirlee, how can we make this shift a reality?

[00:21:28] Shirlee Sharkey: Numbers and voice is important. We've talked a lot about, we need a movement. We need people to speak up, and really be vocal about their needs and desires and determine how.

[00:21:41] And I do think this is the big thing, we have to examine how other initiatives reach scale, or how, you know, other movements are successful, and move us beyond these polarized views of right and wrong, or black and white, to the gray area. [00:22:00] I'd be talking to people here in Canada and say, "Giddy up. There's enough examples around the world for us to know what we should be doing. So let's bring true meaning to aging in place."

[00:22:20] Zannat Reza: And now I wanted to find out what do Carl and Shirlee think about the future, including their own. I asked them the two questions we ask every guest. First up, finish the sentence in 10 words or less. The future of aging should be...

[00:22:33] Carl Honoré: The future of aging should be an adventure for everyone.

[00:22:38] Shirlee Sharkey: That the whole world is open to us as aging people, that we look forward to aging.

[00:22:46] Zannat Reza: Now let's time travel, when you're a hundred years old, what does your ideal life look like?

[00:22:51] Shirlee Sharkey: Yeah, and this, this is one where I go, why a hundred? You know, we could possibly, by then, who knows what age we're living to, but I think it's [00:23:00] like everything else, it's not a moment in time of 100 or 200, but hopefully, what one looks at is their whole life cycle. And knowing that as we age, it's just multiple cycles of, of sometimes hills and valleys to how life, and family, and our own knowledge has, has evolved.

[00:23:23] Carl Honoré: I'm getting up every day and thinking, yes, another day, and I'm taking life by the scruff of the neck and I'm making the most of that moment, for whatever a hundred looks like. Hopefully I'll still be playing hockey, just some version of it.

[00:23:42] Zannat Reza: A big thank you to Shirlee and Carl for their thoughts on how we can shift our mindset, and flip the script on aging. Thanks for joining us for this episode. To learn more and for transcripts, go to Listen to new episodes by following us wherever you get your podcasts. And if you're liking our podcast, [00:24:00] leave a review on Apple or Spotify and be sure to share it with your friends, family, and colleagues.

[00:24:06] The Future Age is brought to you by SE Health, a not-for-profit social enterprise, whose purpose is to bring hope and happiness to the lives of Canadians. It's produced by the Future of Aging team and Podium Podcast Company. For more information, visit