As Americans live longer than ever before — and the ones born today could expect to celebrate their 90th birthday and beyond — there are questions they need to ask themselves.
The University of California, Irvine’s Institute for Memory Impairments and Neurological Disorders (UCI Mind) has studied elderly individuals as part of it’s “90+ Study” since 2003 , analyzing the ways in which nearly 2,000 participants go about their lives in their 90s and 100s, as well as what may have contributed to that longevity and underlying cognitive disabilities they may or may not know they have.
60 Minutes met with a few participants — including a World War II veteran and a ballroom dancer — six years apart and recently reported that many continued to thrive. Some participants had an iPhone and were on Facebook, and others were exercising in any capacity they could. While a few of the participants were losing their cognitive abilities, others were mentally agile, able to answer questions and formulate calculations at the tops of their heads.
They also remember vivid memories — one participant said he recalls buying his first car, a 1931 Chevy convertible, for $18 in a pool hall because the seller needed the money to shoot pool. When asked how old the 99-year-old feels, “I always say 69,” he told CBS reporter Lesley Stahl.
While these golden agers might seem uncommon now, the future will see many more. Half of children born this decade can expect to see their 103rd or 104th birthday, Claudia Kawas, co-principal investigator of The 90+ Study, told CBS. And if other Americans expect to follow suit, living well into their 80s, 90s or even 100s, they’ll need to think carefully about the time ahead of them.
Here are a few questions they can consider:
How many things will I be when I ‘grow up’?
Parents and teachers used to ask children what they wanted to become when they were older, but the question will likely need to change to what jobs — as in, plural — will people want to take on as an adult, said Joe Coughlin, director of the MIT AgeLab and author of “The Longevity Economy.” “You are seeing in this pandemic a propellant of what education will be like,” he said. “They’ll have to continue learning.”
Some older Americans may already be seeing that, as they switch jobs or advance their careers as technology pushes society forward. There are now social media analysts, data scientists, even remote learning consultants — positions that did not exist only a few decades ago. Nancy Schlossberg, an author and former counseling professor, said she’s experienced it herself — moving from a job as a professor and author to a consultant for Zoom programs on transitions in life .
Workers will need to stay adaptable, Coughlin said, meaning they will need to brush up on the latest skill sets and be ready to grow as their fields change.
Not only can people expect to change jobs and career fields numerous times in their lifetimes, but even what they do in retirement, Schlossberg said. There are six types of retirees, she found in her research, including ones who choose not to have any big plans in retirement and those who start a hobby they’ve always longed to try.
With whom will I live this long life?
Choosing a significant other to share life’s journey with may become an even bigger commitment than it already is, especially if you marry in your 30s and expect to live into your 90s, Coughlin said. “We’re not talking about 25 years or the rarity of 50,” he said. Celebrating a golden anniversary, or longer, could become commonplace. But that also depends on if the marriage will last. Of course, many Americans divorce — even in their older age — and some may choose to stay single, date or find another spouse with whom they can spend their later years.
Not everyone needs a spouse, but when thinking about a long life ahead, individuals do need to think about who may be around them in that time. They should plan for how they expect to interact with children, grandchildren, other family members, friends and even neighbors. A crucial question to get sorted out is this: Who will take care of you when you’re old or sick? This may be a significant other, it may be a relative or a family friend, or it may be a health care professional — but knowing that answer and discussing it at length with the other person is important to ensuring your wishes are met, as are theirs.