In the past couple of weeks I had the opportunity to attend the first ever Healthy Aging Summit in Washington DC where I presented an academic poster and I was invited to be a presenter at the Florida Council on Aging’s Annual Conference on Aging.
Usually, I am busy blogging about dementia care of the lack there of or information that I hope will be helpful for caregivers. While this post will certainly speak to those issues, I want to share some information that I have gathered from these two conferences and some random thoughts about some of what I heard and learned.
First, I have always thought that we brilliant baby boomers should be able to offer solutions to some of the “aging” challenges we bring as we age! Turns out I was correct.
The opening keynote speaker at the Healthy Aging Summit was Colin Milner, the CEO of The International Council on Active Aging gave me a new term during his presentation – Longevity Revolution. Not only is that a more positive description than the Silver Tsunami term or Elder Quake that has become popular, it spoke to his philosophy that we should begin to look at aging in America as an opportunity rather than a challenge. Milner challenged attendees to look at the possibilities of aging rather than the challenges.
I liked that term, “Longevity Revolution” now that we ARE living longer. I also liked the comment by Moderator Dr. Don Wright, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Healthcare Quality within the Department of Health and Human Services, who said “We want people to die young as late in life as possible.” That would certainly be my goal – and why I often say I want to be hit by a bus. No one wants to “live” in a state of decline, dysfunction and dependence. We all want to go, after a great and active day, quietly in our sleep!
This conference was interesting as well, because I serve on the board of directors of an organization that hopes to foster opportunities for our citizens to live and age with dignity and purpose. Within that organization we are facilitating a project looking at how we could change/adapt/redeploy resources to meet the needs our aging population presents. One of the ideas is that we might focus on the entrepreneurial opportunities this could provide.
I am fortified and pleased that at the conference I am currently attending, it appears folks are tapping in to that entrepreneurial spirit. One company will deliver nutritious frozen meals to your home. These meals can be simply warmed up in the microwave. Yes, there is a cost. But many of us would pay for that service, to ensure that our parents or even for ourselves are receiving proper nutrition! Or how about the company that is starting a “shared housing” business? What if you had an extra room in your house that you were willing to rent at a very reasonable rate and you simply needed a drive to the grocery store and to your doctor appointments a couple of times per month? Or let’s say you are retired, live alone and you just need someone to mow your yard or shovel your snow? This company will screen both you and your potential “tenants” for compatibility and of course, safety – they do criminal background checks – and then connects the two of you. Sort of like those on-line dating sites, but no dating involved! This would be perfect for college students who need an inexpensive place to live and could provide some simple assistance for those who can still remain in their own home with a little help. Yes, it’s similar to the “golden girls” concept but intergenerational and would be helpful for those who may not have a group of friends with whom to reside.
The down side to some of this positive thinking is that, as we try to put a positive spin on aging, we must still accept the fact that we all DO age. One presenter spoke the need for more personal responsibility, meaning that many of us KNOW what we should do to improve our health as we age, but we simply don’t do it. (Put DOWN the donut and exercise, friends!!) However, we must be careful with this theory. As one aging expert said “Something in our bodies will break as we age, through no fault of our own!” We mustn’t make those who develop an illness or find their abilities diminishing as they age feel guilty, as though they have done something wrong. Certainly, that would be the pendulum swinging too far in the other direction.
And as I listened to two Alzheimer’s researchers speak about healthy cognitive aging, I thought of all those brilliant and otherwise healthy individuals I have known who have had to face the challenge of Alzheimer’s disease. It’s hard to put a positive spin on that. I was a bit miffed and felt that maybe they were trying to be positive about a topic that has no positive aspect. But then I had this thought, maybe as we begin to think more positively about our aging population, we will lose the stigma that Alzheimer’s and other dementias still carry. Alzheimer’s has been easy to ignore. It has been seen as an illness only afflicting the “old”. Those with Alzheimer’s have not often remained in the public eye – thus easy to ignore. But that is changing and it can’t happen too soon. With more individuals being diagnosed earlier in the course of the disease and those with Young Onset speaking out, we are now hearing their voices and seeing their faces. Maybe this will motivate our elected officials to put their money and policies where their mouth is. Not one candidate says Alzheimer’s research is not important. Maybe we can use our power and our voices to compel them to increase the funding to meet the need for more effective treatments and a cure. No more lip service, let’s demand action.
The times are changing and it is important that those who work with the aging population be flexible as these times change. This week, I not only presented a workshop on “Sex in Long Term Care” at a large aging conference, I listed to another presenter discuss sex after age 60. Some of you may not want to talk about sex, especially in the context of your parents or grandparents who live in long term care! That’s why the subtitle of my presentation is “Eeeew or OK?”, because many do think of it is an “eeeew” topic! However, as we baby boomers, who coined the phrase “make love, not war” move in to long term care it is an important topic for both those who reside in long term care and those who work in long term care. In addition, whether you like it or not, believe it is “normal” or not, hate the topic or embrace the topic, the Caitlyn Jenners of the world are aging and may, at some point, reside in long term care. Are we ready for that?
So, today, I am intrigued at the possibilities. Maybe, this “longevity revolution” can be an impetus for positive change, not just a tsunami or quake! And just as the baby boomers influenced the work place, forced civil rights changes and lead the sexual revolution – we can be the motivators and even the innovators as we enter our final years.