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The Upside of Aging: How Long Life Is Changing the World of Health, Work, Innovation, Policy and Purpose by Paul Irving

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Chapter 4 Disruptive Demography: The New Business of Old Age

Joseph F. Coughlin

Founder and Director, Massachusetts Institute of Technology AgeLab

To succeed in a shifting demographic landscape, innovators must understand the features of the new terrain—a generation that will demand a better old age, the revenue sources that will pay for them to experience it, and the organizations that will deliver it.

Ralph, Clarence, and Shorty were my childhood best friends. Aged somewhere between 70 and 80-something, they taught me, an only child, everything that could possibly interest a boy—sports, fishing, shooting, repairing boats, hiking, reading the sky for bad weather, what happened during the “war,” and yes, more than a few vulgar jokes. But these friends—my neighbor Ralph, and Clarence and Shorty, who let me hang around and later work at their fishing shop near our New York vacation home—taught me something more: learning, living, and laughing did not have to stop at any age. My interest in aging as an academic pursuit came later, when I was old enough to realize that my friends were, in societal terms, “old men.” The example of their spirited lives inspired me to combine my love of technology with institutional engineering to build a career devoted to living not only longer, but better.

Now, we need that vision to come true, because the world is growing old at an unprecedented rate. Although we’re still far from fully understanding how disruptive demographic change will affect ...

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