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Sloan Center Launches Engaged as We Age Project

convening thought leaders focuses on engagement and the mental/physical health of older americans

26 October 2009—Growing old in America is not what it used to be.

As a result of extended longevity and health, older Americans now have opportunities for multiple life engagements—in continued work, in volunteer activities, in education and other learning activities, and in care-giving for family members and friends.

But what is their collective impact on individual mental and physical health?

The Sloan Center on Aging & Work's new Engaged as We Age project aims to develop an ongoing, national study of aging to reflect on this very question.

A critical fist step for the Engaged as We Age project is to convene a strategic think tank of thought leaders interested in the opportunities and dilemmas of aging in contemporary America.  During a full-day facilitated conversation to be held Friday October 30, 2009 at Boston College, policy analysts/advocates, practitioners/employers, foundation representatives, and academics from several disciplines will re-examine and re-think the dominant conceptions of aging in America.

“To this day, discussions of later life have tended to circulate around concepts of ‘successful’ and ‘productive aging,’” explains Jacquelyn James, Co-Director of Research at the Sloan Center and lead researcher for the Engaged as We Age project. “ According to these conceptions, older adults are either considered ‘successful’ if they avoid disease and disability or ‘productive’ if engaged in the primarily economic activities of producing goods and services.

“Moving forward we clearly need a new vision of the complexities of later life.  Developing a debilitating disease should not imply that one is unsuccessful.  And one’s retirement activities, such as the pursuit of leisure, health promotion, or socializing, that do not contribute to the economy should not be discounted as unproductive. Life should not be looked at as a series of failures.”

Older adults entering the traditional retirement ages (such as the Baby Boomer Generation) do indeed face a very different later life context than did the generation just ahead of them—in terms of health, economic realities, and longevity.  How to use all this vitality and health to the greatest advantage for society is still to be determined, not just for the Boomers but for future generations as well.

“The Sloan Center is interested in articulating a vision that accounts for people of different ages,” says James.  “What they expect, hope for, and fear about growing older—all of this will help further an understanding of what kinds of experiences move them into a vital and contented later life.”

Following the meeting with thought leaders, the Center plans to release a major report in early January.  The report will be a “call to action” on the part of employers, policy makers, advocates, and researchers for next steps in dealing with the challenges and opportunities inherent in an aging society.

More on the Engaged as We Age Project »