If we are going to have disruption we must have provocateurs. We need people with the courage to challenge us to look really hard at the realities around us, the status quo of our institutions and solutions and how we can achieve alignment. Kathryn Lawler and Ken Dychtwald fit this description. Ms. Lawler may not appear to be the change agent we need but I am convinced of her outsized role. Mr Dychtwald is much brassier and more visible. Both are respected insiders which you might think disqualifies them. But that would be wrong. They have been at the front of calling it like it is for a long time. They share a responsible approach, working industriously at the front edge of the current paradigm but also displaying the COURAGE and passion to articulate vision and give voice to the need for radical change in our aging agenda. They teach us how our world can be different.
Kathryn works at the Atlanta Regional Commission humbly impacting that sprawling and problem filled metro area to be much better than it would be otherwise. My first exposure to Kathryn was her inspired 2001 paper for NeighborWorks and the Harvard Joint Center on Housing Studies, Aging in Place: Coordinating Housing and Healthcare Provision for America’s Growing Older Population. I reread that one periodically because it is so spot on including one important concept – undercare and overcare, I used in my 2010 MetLife Mature Market Institute paper. I spoke with Kathryn the other day about a more recent paper she wrote for the Gerontological Society of America called Age Friendly: Go Big or Go Home.
I asked her about the paper. It aligns closely with my feelings (but I don’t expect to be mainstream). She said, “I wrote it to be provocative.” She is very surprised (disappointed?) NO ONE took the bait. No one wrote or called a challenge to her directly or publicly. What can that mean? Everyone agrees or they are too timid or disengaged to bother?
Key points in Kathryn’s paper are that it is time to stop with the ‘pilots’, narrow our scope, make decisions about how to move forward and commit the levers and financing to do it. GO Big or Go Home! I agree wholeheartedly with her description that the current age friendly movement, while well meaning, is so broad that it stalls action. Paraphrasing a common aphorism Kathryn writes “Do not let the perfect, the idealized vision of an aging community, become the enemy of the necessary and the now.” I am applauding at my desk. Read Kathryn’s paper. Be provoked. Take Action.
Ken Dychtwald is probably the most visible and successful gerontologist. As much as he is respected and hired by big business for how he can help them position themselves he is embraced by the aging professional community for his vision and leadership. Ken conducted a 45 minute call Thursday April 21 to call out our political candidates and media for ignoring the huge issues and opportunities our country faces as the population ages.
Ken is right when he says this can make or break our country in the next few years. Aging expenses, medicare and social security are 42% of the federal budget and rising. Life expectancy continues to rise but policy is mired in ‘solutions’ that existed before longevity even occurred. (1) Alzheimer’s and dementia are nearly epidemic but research dollars to find a cure are woefully low. (2) Mass elderly poverty is on the horizon if policies and behavior don’t change. (3) Our medical training all but ignores aging. (4) Our institutions, infrastructure and attitudes are stuck in mindsets that glorify youth and ignore aging. (5) We are squandering powerful potential in the wisdom and capability of our aging population because we don’t think about it’s value.
Ken’s presentation was built around these five issues and about 5 question for each. Our candidates and the media SHOULD pay attention. They should write, speak and commit. All our leaders should. You should too. Download the presentation and the transcript. It is an excellent agenda that everyone in our country should take to heart.
My own agenda, Homes Renewed fits pretty well. Homes Renewed is about concrete actionable policy for investment to improve our housing infrastructure creating a foundation for better and more economical health and care delivery.
The problems are huge and real. The aging agenda needs to be disrupted. Thanks to these dedicated and thoughtful provocateurs we have some directions. We will soon have a new administration. Can we encourage our candidates and media to pay attention? Do we have the guts, determination and dedication to listen and act? Do you?