Aging as an Extreme Sport
Joseph F. Coughlin is director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology AgeLab (http://agelab.mit.edu). His research explores how demographic change, technology and consumer behavior drive innovations in business and society. Coughlin teaches in MIT's Department of Urban Studies and Planning and the Sloan School's Advanced Management Program. He is author of the new book The Longevity Economy: Unlocking the World's Fastest-Growing, Most Misunderstood Market (Public Affairs, 2017).
Aging is not for wimps. Think about it. As you change your environment remains the same. Your kitchen cabinets are still the mess they were, but now the height seems like a stretching exercise. Your home's stairs now qualify as a steeple chase. And, what was once a simple shopping trip or bus ride is now something that feels like the last few yards of a swim meet.
Living at home, preparing a meal for friends and everyday mobility should not be a triathlon event. Aging demands new thinking. New thinking demands new tools that give true innovators more than a quote from a survey or an observation from a product clinic but the opportunity for designers, engineers, product developers, marketers and even policy makers to feel the 'aha moment' for themselves. The 'aha' that things can be made better not just for the 'old' but better for all of us.
Below is my recent TEDx Boston talk describing the new opportunity of old age and highlighting, with the capable tolerance of my research assistant Angelina Gennis, MIT AgeLab's AGNES (Age Gain Now Empathy System). AGNES serves as a teacher to researchers, businesses and governments but also serves as an instructor to all of us to prepare our environments and to proactively invest in our well-being to live independent, engaged, healthy and better lives tomorrow.