2012 Aging in America Calls for Renewed Advocacy and a New Vision of Aging

Article excerpt

We need a new Claude Pepper," said Bob Egger, founder of D.C. Central Kitchen, at a General Session during the 2012 Aging in America Conference, March 28-April 1, in Washington, D.C. "He would never have stood for what we're doing now," Egger declared, referring to current budget wrangles and political bickering so detrimental to programs and services for elders.

Egger's reference to Pepper, a tireless advocate for older adults, reflected the urgent theme of the five Conference General Sessions: there is much advocacy work to do. There are bright spots ahead as America's population ages in unprecedented numbers, but there's an immediate need to make the voices of older adults heard.

In the March 29 session, The 2012 Political Landscape and Older Adults, sponsored by CVS Caremark, Assistant Secretary for Aging Kathy Greenlee urged everyone to "tell the story" of the Older Americans Act (OAA) to ensure its reauthorization. "It has been here since 1965, it's doing what it was intended to do, is cost effective, and meets its goals." She stressed that OAA reauthorization depends upon that rare Washington commodity of bipartisan support, and asked everyone to communicate about what OAA programs do, and to continually educate their Congress members. Greenlee was passionate about shining a light on elder abuse, too, advising advocates to ask: Are any of the seniors I serve abused? "If you all answered that question we would have a national response," she said.

Rep. Allyson Y. Schwartz (D-Penn.) followed with a thorough description of the ACA, saying, "At some point [the cutting] is simply too much. It's not possible for us to do what we're asking you to do without funding the OAA. Everything's at risk, because everything's on the table."

Hunger-Not a Game

On March 30, there were two sessions: Malnutrition Among Older Adults and Hunger in America. The first, sponsored by Nestle Health Science, and featuring Joy Bauer, Marie T. Fanelli Kuczmarski, Cara Goldstein and Dr. David Raymond Thomas, detailed the many challenges of maintaining a balanced diet as one ages. Older peoples' natural tendency to eat less can turn into malnutrition over time. Anorexia, osteoporosis, memory loss and mental confusion can all stem from improper eating and drinking. Early detection and early intervention can ameliorate the worse effects, but this requires everyone who serves elders to pay close attention.

The second panel, sponsored by Walmart, was what moderator Joe Quinn, Walmart's senior director, Issue Management and Strategic Outreach, for Walmart Corporate Affairs, called "a feisty group." Bob Blancato suggested forcing the issue of hunger into the political consciousness, as it's "not nearly high enough" on the priority list. "The focus should be on ending hunger. Period," he said. Meals on Wheels CEO Enid Borden revealed that it's not the oldest old who are the hungriest, but often those ages 60 to 64-in other words, "it could be anybody."

Mary Pat Raimondi of the American Dietetic Association discussed problems with people's access to information and resources to ameliorate hunger, and how those who need them most can't get to them. She cited the example of the SNAP program, and how few elders eligible for this benefit use it. AARP Foundation's Jo Ann Jenkins addressed the growing numbers of AARP members who are now low-income or working poor-up to 25 percent of their 38 million members. "We need to use our voice to raise awareness of solutions. AARP has the voice, we've been calling attention to the good work of others."

"Numbers are important," Borden said, "but we should never forget the face. We...are impelled, obligated to stand up for those time has left behind. …