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Aging isn't what it used to be

In a brave new world, technology is adding to quality of life.

With each passing year, the ability to truly grow older gracefully – and healthfully – is becoming easier with each new invention. The way we grow old is itself an invention of sorts. Until the mid-19th century, “older” age was very individualized – something experienced in different ways at different stages of life. But in the 1850s doctors began searching to understand why younger people seemed to recover more easily from illnesses. Out of this emerged a medical idea that we are born with a finite amount of energy – in danger of running low as white hair and wrinkles began to show. From then on, people were encouraged to save energy and rest in order to last beyond the age of 65.

This theory has long been discredited. And nearly one in four baby boomers in America defy its premise every day by refusing to slow down as they age – working longer, traveling more and living longer than ever before. They’re also more likely to enjoy better health and have more education and higher income than their parents and grandparents. And they expect to live well as they age.

This zest for life, combined with the latest technological advances, means that growing older doesn’t have to mean slowing down or giving up freedoms. Read on for some of the most exciting Jetson-inspired breakthroughs.

Keep Zooming

Regardless of age, recent technological advances like blind-spot and lane detection, voice recognition, and parking assistance keep us all safe on the road. And soon, other discoveries that sound like science fiction will become the norm. What if your car could sense your eyelids growing heavy and tell you to pull over and rest? Bad traffic? What if your car spritzed lavender or lowered the air temperature as your heart rate and blood pressure went up? Or why not let the car do all the work for you? Google, Tesla and other major car manufacturers are currently testing driverless cars. These innovations, along with ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft, could lead to more years of independence for people who might otherwise have to find other transportation solutions.

Age in Place

Thanks to “smart” technology like Bluetooth and GPS, many families have been able to delay or avoid altogether the tough decision to move a loved one to an assisted living facility. Smart lavatories can measure weight and vital signs. Bracelets, watches and clothing can track activity and heartbeat. Carpets can detect falls. The MIT’s AgeLab, which develops innovations to add to quality of life in retirement, is harnessing NASA technology to figure out ways to track Mom’s medication and Dad’s eyeglasses via tiny radio frequency tags so caregivers can keep tabs online. Plus, telemedicine makes healthcare more accessible to everyone now that we can video conference with a doctor for nonemergency issues and even get prescriptions – without leaving home. And even though it might seem a little invasive to have a tracking device or camera watching you, people who already have taken advantage of this technology say the benefits of living independently for longer far outweigh any drawbacks.

Reinvent Yourself

Before the Age of the Internet, people who wanted to keep working in retirement had to put dreams on hold. Now, though, no more putting travel plans on hold when you can fire up a laptop from anywhere around the globe! No internet? No worries! You can even use your phone as a personal hotspot. Similarly, gone are days of being confined to a brick-and-mortar school for continuing education. Those in retirement who are looking forward to kick-starting a second (or third or fourth) career can easily take online courses and earn degrees. Plus, companies like AirBnB, Uber and Lyft offer those in retirement a way to earn extra income in nontraditional ways.

Stay Connected and Happy

Studies show that staying connected to the world around us helps keep us happier – which in turn keeps us healthier, it turns out. Ironically, as people age they may have a tendency to keep to themselves, especially if they’ve lost a friend or loved one, or are experiencing health problems. Living far away from grandchildren? Apps like WhatsApp, Voxer and FaceTime close the virtual distance and offer face-to-face contact without having to get on a plane. Looking to re-enter the dating scene? Senior-specific dating sites can spark romantic connections in new phases of life. Thankfully connectivity is all around us; we just have to choose what’s right for us.

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Mitchell Custenborder, CFP®
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