Terry Paulson

At a recent National Speakers Association convention, agewave.com futurist Ken Dychtwald shared a startling fact, "Two-thirds of the people who have ever lived past 65 throughout history are alive today." That's not surprising when he reports that that for 99% of human history life expectancy was 18 years of age. By 1900, it was only 47.

But by 2030, over 20% of America's population could be over 65, and they'll expect the government to honor its promise to take care of their retirement and healthcare needs for the rest of their lives. They'll have more political clout to demand it than they have now. If not dealt with soon, funding their entitlements may very well bring America to its knees.

When German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck first set 65 as the age for receiving state pensions in 1889, life expectancy was 45 years of age. Using that difference from our current life expectancy of 78, today we'd start benefits at 98.

That won't fly in this age of entitlement, but politicians on both sides of the aisle better start facing reality. We need bold leaders willing to make dramatic changes to our outdated and underfunded Social Security and Medicare system so that future generations to avoid a financial collapse.

Unfortunately, expecting bold leaders to emerge from our promise more, spend more, owe more political culture seems Pollyanna at best. As Will Rogers said, "We could certainly slow the aging process down if it had to work its way through Congress." Waiting for bankruptcy and chaos on the streets is not leadership. But besides voting for politicians who will tackle the entitlement addiction, what can citizens do to age responsibly?

Start by facing the challenge. Seeing families cope with the financial and health challenges of aging is sobering. Even with planning and resources, Social Security, Medicare, long-term care insurance and offspring who can afford to help, the financial and time strain on caregivers can tax all involved. Just remember, it's not the number of years, but the quality of the life lived that determines whether a long life is a blessing or a curse.

You can't control everything that happens to you as you age, but you can take responsibility for improving your odds of aging well. Some advice is obvious. Pay off debts early. Save more. Spend less. Think simple. Downsize. Get rid of stuff you don't need. And of course, spend time with grandkids. Love on them as they love on you. But if you want them to keep loving you, do what you can to make it less likely you will ever become a burden.

Terry Paulson

Terry Paulson, PhD is a psychologist, award-winning professional speaker, author of The Optimism Advantage: 50 Simple Truths to Transform Your Attitudes and Actions into Results, and long-time columnist for the Ventura County Star.

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