Disrupt aging: living to 100 may take a change in perspective


Cary Sweeney
December 2022

Recently I came across a booklet I picked up in 2016 from an AARP exhibit booth at a Gerontological Conference called “Disrupt Aging: Implications of Living 100.” When I first heard about the AARP campaign to “Disrupt Aging” - also the title of AARP CEO Jo Ann Jenkins’ book - I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it. It seemed to imply that aging was something that needed to be fixed, if only we had the right product or medicine. That didn’t entirely appeal to me, but I was still intrigued by the title, so I kept this booklet on my bulletin board in my office in case I warmed up to it. 

This month both the New York Times and The Washington Post ran articles about aging, specifically related to President Biden who turned 80 years of age on Nov. 20, making him the oldest president in U.S. history.  

The New York Times article drew from ten experts in aging, concluding that age (chronological age) is not something that can be considered on its own.  

The Washington Post article drew on experts who put Biden in the category of “super ager” and commented that today’s 80-year-old “is not the same as an 80-year-old in the 1950s or 1960s.” The article closed with the importance of factoring in the benefits of wisdom and life experience that come with aging. I was pleasantly surprised to read these points in support of the breaking out against some of the stereotypes of age. 

I became curious to flip through the Disrupt Aging: Implications of Living 100 booklet. I looked past the provocative title and considered the implications of the President of the United States at age 80. While President Biden may be more like a “super ager” (people with cognitive or physical function equal to that of people decades younger), overall humans in general are living longer and healthier due to improvements in medicine and public health policy. The booklet points out that in countries aging the best, half of 10-year-olds today may live to be 104.  Though still today when we talk about living to 100 it seems unreal. It puts disrupting how we think about aging in perspective (read more here about what this means for the future of work).

What I like about it focuses on making the most of a longer life and encourages readers to consider the impact of a positive outlook on aging (more about this in a recent Wall Street Journal article or Dr. Becca Levy's work). One study was noted that "older individuals with more positive self-perception of aging lived 7.5 years longer than those with less positive self-perceptions of aging.” The other sections include continued lifelong learning, a healthy routine, minimizing stress, maintaining close relationships, widening social circles to increase opportunities, and spending wisely. 

Thinking about 50 as middle age can be a bit frightening (or exciting!). Though this booklet considers a “kinder, gentler clock for human development.” This longer life span provides us with an opportunity to cultivate the ability to reinvent ourselves, and consider multiple careers later in life and build new life skills. I’m happy that I held onto it since it provides a helpful frame of development extending beyond early life and spanning across our entire life course. 

Publication date: 
December 1, 2022
Publication type: 
Journal Article