91 yo Woman Still Contributing in a New World - The Aging Advantage - Pacific Standard
At 91, Beskind is three times the age of many of the people around the table. She was hired at IDEO two years ago, after she saw a 60 Minutes segment on the company’s founder, David Kelley. She wrote a letter to IDEO—she found the company’s reliance on multidisciplinary problem-solving teams “most impressive,” and thought her 44-year career in applied design and occupational therapy could be valuable to the organization. For decades, Beskind worked in occupational therapy for the United States Army, designing braces and other equipment for polio patients and wounded soldiers; when she retired as a major in 1966, she opened the first independent occupational therapy clinic in the country. She continued to invent customized equipment for patients, and holds a patent for a series of inflatable therapeutic devices. Later, she attended art school, wrote a memoir, and taught classes in the history of Russian abstract art.
Beskind was first hired at IDEO for an exploratory project on aging: 44 designers from all 10 of the company’s offices pushed the boundaries with experimental, personal prototypes that included a stylish bike-walker hybrid and an “Instagran” photo feed that goes straight to an older relative’s television. In the two years since, her perspective has been undeniably useful for projects that aim to improve life for aging populations—the home health-care robots, the alternatives to traditional walkers—but her experience has also been relevant to those that simply aim to improve life. She works on projects that span all aspects of IDEO’s purview, from refining contact-lens cases to reduce fumbling to conceptualizing a new transit system for a metro area that employs the high-speed mag-lev technology used by UPS to route packages.
There has been a lot of ink dedicated to the coming mass retirement of the Baby Boomer generation. When we hear “boomers,” we tend to expect a one-time event coming that we will struggle through and then move on from, says Paul Irving, chairman of the Milken Institute’s Center for the Future of Aging, a think tank based in Santa Monica, California. But the confluence of lower birth rates and increasing longevity is, he says, “a permanent demographic shift happening around the world”—one that’s unfolding rapidly in places like China, Japan, and Brazil. The old notions of retirement—stop working at or around the age of 65, collect Social Security for a while, die within 10 years—are well past outdated. Retirement can last several decades. We innovate for every arena of life, so shouldn’t we be innovating for that time, too?