None of us can escape from the ageist imagery and messages that seem to be an ingrained part of our culture. We are constantly being sold “age-reversing” creams and serums, “age-defying” make-ups, and “anti-aging” superfoods. Probably in part due to this barrage of marketing, many among us are hoping for mobile, healthful elder years, and not without reason– we are healthier as a species as we have ever been, and all signs point toward our lifespans increasing over generations to come.

But can we start to regard 90 as the new 50?

Dr. Robert Butler, a renowned gerontologist who founded the first gerontology department in a US medical school, and who founded the International Longevity Center in New York,  was still putting in 60 hour work weeks just days before his death last year. Clearly, he was a champion for the health of elders. But when Susan Jacoby (author of the upcoming book Never Say Die: The Myth and Marketing of the New Old Age )  asked him about the idea of 90 being the new 50, even he balked a little, stating  ‘I’m a scientist…and a scientist always hopes for the big breakthrough. The trouble with expecting 90 to become the new 50 is it can stop rational discussion — on a societal as well as individual level — about how to make 90 a better 90. This fantasy is a lot like waiting for Prince Charming, in that it doesn’t distinguish between hope and reasonable expectation.’

What are your thoughts? Is it fruitful to be super-optimistic about the future of aging, or should those of us engaged in solving the design challenges for current and future elders focus on current realities? Are these notions mutually exclusive?

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