to reduced psychological and physical well-being. Blackburn and colleagues have documented shortened telomeres in caregivers of chronically ill relatives. And the converse: social support has been found to be strongly associated with health and productivity (Berkman, 2000). There is some evidence that positive social relationships may protect against dementia (Fratiglioni, 2000). Happier people appear to live longer and healthier lives (Levy et al., 2000). One finding in particular is clear: high levels of education strongly predict functional health. In order to ensure that added years are satisfying, healthy, and meaningful, it is important to consider ways that scientific and technological advances can contribute to lifelong learning and socioemotional functioning.

At a macro level, too, the attention of economists, demographers, and sociologists is needed. Societies have not adjusted to increased life expectancy. The social norms that guide individuals through life have changed little across the years that life expectancy increased, a phenomenon Riley referred to as structural lag (Riley et al., 1994). This mismatch likely underutilizes the citizenry of the nation. Federal entitlement programs have changed little since their inception despite increases in average life expectancy. Regulations surrounding Social Security have remained largely unchanged, implicitly presuming that people should work for 40 years, and then retire for decades. Medicare reimburses hospital bills but does not reimburse many services that would allow people with disabilities to live at home.

Initial Challenges to Consider

  • What is education? Highly educated people show minimal age-related declines in functional status whereas people with less than high school education show steady declines beginning in early adulthood (House et al., 1990). Income contributes to these outcomes but education appears key. What is education? Years spent in the classroom are obviously a gross indicator of education. It is important to gain a better understanding of the cognitive, neural, and behavioral mechanisms that account for improved functioning associated with more years of education.

  • How can work/life changes improve subjective healthspan? Technology may offer ways to provide effective continued education throughout life. This will be particularly important for work performance in the future. The speed of transfer of new technologies from discovery to the public is increasing, demanding continual new learning, an area known to decline with age.

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