Gasp! The Real Shangri La Looming Just Past Your Next Birthday?

Better hold up your 401K retirement plans….! Pretty soon you may have to extend the “expected number of years” clause. Today’s new stats on life expectancy are staggering.

In the 1937 film classic ‘Lost Horizon’ based on James Hilton’s best selling 1933 novel, the world was introduced to a mystical Buddhist sanctuary somewhere in the Tibetan Himalayas called Shangri La. Where everyone lived virtually forever in perfect harmony. Which President Roosevelt himself took a special liking to when he named his presidential retreat Shangri La [now known as Camp David].

Can there ever be such a place?

We may be on the brink of finding out, for right now the world population is closer than ever to living virtually forever. With all the costs and benefits such an historic turning point would mean. We can speculate on this, because the percent of people living to old age has grown spectacularly through the benefits of modern medicine and longevity research. In 2000 7% of the global population was considered elderly; current projections say that will double to 14% by 2040 when the number of us elderly will for the first time surpass the number of you youngsters.

Given America’s red-hot cult of youth, there are some hefty implications here. Some of you who are caregivers for your aging parents already know this. Whereas we once talked about a population explosion, demographers are now talking about a health explosion. Visit any senior home, retirement community or park bench; you are starting to see as many grandparents as grandchildren.

At the grandparent stage, we see it one way; at your age, another way. But either way, there are some serious costs and benefits looming. The costs for keeping the elderly alive are especially burdensome in the last five years of life [all part of the current debate over Obamacare]. On the other and better hand, the benefits just might be spectacular. Think of a world filled with the elderly wise, minds still here and alert enough to share the accumulated wisdom of their 90 and 100 years of tough but telling experience.

Lets look at it this way. We could be approaching an age when for the first time a helter-skelter planet will house the kind of generational wisdom we’ve often extolled, but never had available. At my age, the possibilities are encouraging. At your age, they could be unlimited.

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