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In the landmark film, The Graduate, there is a memorable scene in which an older businessman intercepts a young Dustin Hoffman, intent on giving him some sage advice. He leans in and says confidentially, “Young man, I want to say one word to you. Plastics.”
If the film were being made today, that older businessman might lean in and whisper, “Telomeres.” These protective end caps on our chromosomes determine how quickly we age and die. Each time our cells divide, the telomeres shorten. Shortening telomeres equal a shortening life.
However, in 2009 scientists discovered a game-changing enzyme, telomerase, that slows, stops, and can even reverse telomere shortening. We’re born with the telomerase gene “turned off,” so that natural aging is inevitable. But if (when) we find a way to switch this gene on, we will have the ability to become immortal. Such research is already underway. Which is a bit of an overwhelming thought. What, for instance, would living forever (or at least for several centuries) mean for the reverse mortgage industry?
In the interim, the upcoming generation of reverse mortgage prospects is reinventing the concept of how and when to die. Just as Boomers have reinvented retirement from a time of withdrawal and relaxation to one of encore careers, they are reclaiming death from fear, pain, and suffering to a time of dignity and control. Clearly, Boomers do not intend to “go gentle into that good night.”
With the last taboo now a subject of dinner conversation at more than 500 Death Cafés worldwide, it seems safe to say that unless and until telomerase is on tap in every home, Boomers will want to discuss and determine what their end of life will look like. So while this topic may or may not have come up in your reverse mortgage settings in the past, it very well may in the future as younger retirees, and those who could retire but choose not to, consider the reverse mortgage option.
Be prepared for the changing demographic to ask challenging questions about meaning, purpose and closure. What referral resources would be helpful to have available when Boomer prospects bring up topics the prior generation of reverse mortgage clients never broached? Boomers want control and ultimately, closure. And their telomeres are driving the train.