Panel dispels myths about aging
The chief operating officer of AARP says it's a myth that older workers are less productive — and more expensive — than younger and less experienced workers.
Scott Frisch, who is 48, made that statement at a panel discussion Tuesday (June 20) sponsored by AARP Oregon and the Oregon Gerontological Association.
Frisch in 2014 became the executive vice president and chief operating officer of what was formerly the American Association of Retired Persons, which changed its name to AARP in 1999 to reflect that a majority of members are no longer retired.
They must be at least age 50 — and Frisch said about a third of the current U.S. workforce is 50 or older.
"When you think about all of us who are sitting here, I am much better at what I do today than I would have ever been when I was 25 — and I am probably going to be even better, I hope, in another 10 years," Frisch said.
"That concept of experience has been lost, which confounds me, in the employment world.
"The older worker can take that experience and act as a mentor to transfer knowledge to the next generation and the generation following that. That's an asset companies should want to take advantage of."
Frisch and four other panelists spoke during a wide-ranging discussion on "The Future of Aging," moderated by television personality Joe Smith at the Ecotrust building in Portland.
Oregon's share of people 65 and older was 15.4 percent between 2011 and 2015, up from 13.5 percent between 2006 and 2010.
John Marick is chief executive of Consumer Cellular, based in Washington County, which offers discounts to AARP members. He said he seeks older workers for sales and service because they want to work part time or have a more flexible schedule.
Marick's company aims at noncontract service, particularly for older people. He said that while older people are perceived to have difficulties using new technology, social interaction — a key factor in maintaining health — can be promoted through social media such as Facebook and FaceTime and ride-sharing services such as Uber and Lyft.
"Here are tools technology has given us," Marick said. "But if you're not comfortable with technology, you do not have access to them and you are going to be unable to use them."
More older workers
As the notion of aging changes, Dr. Elizabeth Eckstrom said older workers will become more common.
"The 70-year-old worker will look much more like the 50-year-old worker from our parents' generation," said Eckstrom, a physician who is director of geriatrics at Oregon Health & Science University.
"But workers will be demanding more, such as flexibility and work that is more rewarding and has a greater return."
The post-World War II generation known as baby boomers started a wave of retirements when the first of them turned 65 in 2011 — but so far, even though 10,000 people turn 65 daily, change is not yet evident.
Bandana Shrestha, director of community engagement for AARP Oregon based in Clackamas, said that's because many of them continue to keep working due to the deep recession or a lack of retirement savings and losses in home equity.
But she also said some of them volunteer, either for AARP or other community work.
"They are some of the most vibrant people I aspire to be when I get older," she said.
Tim Carpenter said that given current medical advances, age 65 may soon be considered just past the midpoint of an extended lifespan that for some people will reach 120.
Carpenter is executive director of EngAGE, a program based in Burbank, Calif., which has spread to Oregon and Minnesota to promote intergenerational exchanges and artistic creativity among older people. He is also host of a syndicated radio show, "Experience Talks."
Carpenter and others also discussed advances in physical and mental health — and people's own responsibility to take charge of their own lives.
"We give thanks that we have medical advances and a health-care system that is able to treat disease," he said. "But I think we also have to look at how we front-load the system to allow people to have benefits that support healthy behavior."
Eckstrom said there are signs of declining incidences of cancer and heart disease — and even dementia — but because more people are turning 65 and living longer, the actual numbers will increase.
"We have a burgeoning population that is at risk for Alzheimer's," she said. "So the total number of people who have it is going up and will continue to go up."
However, she said, that risk can be lessened through sustained attention to a healthy diet and exercise.
Recent research by OHSU's Larry Sherman and others suggests that there may be a way to stimulate the formation of new neurons in aging brains — not just slowing their decline through diet, exercise, social networks and new personal skills.
Without work, Eckstrom said, people need to find other ways to stimulate themselves.
"The question is: How many 'firsts' have you had today, or this week, when you have tried something brand new that you have never done in your whole life?" she asked. "As we age, we need to be doing more firsts, so that we can maintain that plasticity in the brain."
Some clarifying edits. Corrects Frisch age.