Aging and retirement, as it exists today, has never been seen before in human history. That's the view of  Ken Dychtwald, the prominent founder and CEO of Age Wave, a research and educational organization specializing in aging-related issues.

The current characteristics of retirement have not been witnessed before because people in past centuries did not retire for very long—they died, Dychtwald, a psychologist and gerontologist said during a presentation to the Retirement Coaches Association Tuesday. Dychtwald is the author of What Retirees Want: A Holistic View of Life's Third Age.

Retirement advisors today have to deal with a new set of variables and they need to be aware of the myriad problems faced today by “seniors,” a name Dychtwald said he thinks should be discarded because it is derogatory. It also is not descriptive.

“We are in the midst of a longevity revolution. In the past there was not much to do about people aging, because there were not many of them,” he said, “but during the last century and a half people are living longer lives. This is an uncharted frontier because it has never happened before.”

The average life expectancy is going up and the retirement age is going down, so retirees are now looking at 20 or 30 years of life after work.

“You [retirement coaches] are in the right profession [because] there are no guides for this age and most people do not know how to figure it out,” he added. When people were asked how they envision retirement, the top answer was as “an entirely new chapter in life,” Dychtwald said

Health, including mental health, is a key to a happy retirement. But far less money is spent on curing diseases of old age than is spent on caring for those who suffer from the diseases. This is a dynamic that has to change, Dychtwald said. “We need scientific breakthroughs” on diseases such as Alzheimer’s’ Disease.

Another necessary change is to create better government health care systems. “The fact that you need a financial advisor to be able to understand Medicare is unacceptable,” the gerontologist said. The complicated situations faced by older Americans will require collaboration between retirement coaches and other professionals, including financial advisors.

Retirement coaches need to understand that retirement is not a solo project—it is a family project, involving parents of the retiree, children and extended family. They also need to understand such things as the many scams that threaten older people’s financial well-being.

“When asked what they miss most after retirement, retirees don’t say it is the money. They say it is the action,” Dychtwald said. Retirees need to have purpose, and, he emphasized, they need to have fun. “Baby boomers want a new mix of work and play, so job placement is going to be part of retirement coaching.” Coaches also are going to have to help retirees determine who they are in this new phase of life.

Retirees need to pursue more ways to use the skills they have developed during their working lives, and yet only a small fraction of retirees do any volunteer work at all and, many who do, only do a tiny amount compared to the time they have available. A retirement coach can help retirees work through these situations, Dychtwald said.

“Retirement coaches need to show people how to let go of the old and find new ways to have a greater life,” he added.