Aging in America Probes the Mysteries of Aging, Reinventing Retirement and the Future of Aging
ASA's Aging in America Conference always presents a thoughtprovoking and highly relevant series of General Sessions as part of its educational lineup. The 2013 conference, held in Chicago, March 12-16, featured four of these lively and dynamic events.
The first General Session, "Mysteries of Population Aging," sponsored by CVS Caremark, concerned the seven unsolved mysteries of population aging, as envisioned by Debra Whitman, executive vice president, Policy and International, who oversees AARP's Public Policy Institute, Office of Policy Integration, Office of International Affairs and Office of Academic Affairs.
Whitman, an economist who served as staff director for the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging, asked for audience help to answer her seven mysteries, asserting that with some we're at square one and with others we have good theories on how to solve them, but can't seem to put them into practice.
Whitman's mysteries include: How do we get people to save more for retirement- and how do we get that retirement fund to last longer? How do we encourage people to work longer, and how do we get companies to hire more older adults, instead of, as Whitman says, "going Google on us."
How can we help consumers play a bigger role in managing their own health and wellness? How will we pay for longterm services and supports? How can we as a society deal with the growing numbers of elders with cognitive impairment? And finally, how do we get politicians to look at the needs of an aging society?
Whitman had some answers, which centered around more training for workers and caregivers, more support for caregivers and elders, mandatory employer-based retirement plans- which she knows would face tough oppositionlonger work lives for all and programs to actively prevent ageism.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel was also on hand at the session, and received an award from ASA on Leadership in Public Policy for his work with the Elder Justice Coalition. He chatted up the thousands-strong audience about the difficulties of getting anything done as a congressman, but the relative ease with which he snuck the Elder Justice Act into the Affordable Care Act while serving as President Obama's chief of staff.
Don't Stop Thinking About Tomorrow
The second General Session, a two-part event sponsored by Philips Lifeline, addressed "Aging and Disability" and "Long Life in the 21st Century." Speaker Kathy Greenlee candidly outlined the creation of the new Administration on Community Living- the melding of aging and disability into one agency under the Obama Administration. As Administrator of this new Administration, it's an alliance Greenlee admits is sometimes successful, and sometimes not. "But it's necessary in the present and will determine our future."
"Please don't stop loving what you do ... and if aging is your thing, we need you," Greenlee said, emphasizing the need to coalesce around issues and advocate more strongly than ever in the face of economic and political change.
She drew parallels between aging and disability in that we managed to overcome the way we used to treat those with disabilities, so she feels it's possible to do the same with aging. People in general want to achieve meaningful lives, but if we're to do so we must address "chronic disease, medication management, dementia, caregiving, the cost of care, Medicare, Medicaid, palliative care, hospice and end of life," said Greenlee.
She urged the audience to "Be competent and confident enough to be multicultural in your approach. We need experts in all fields, but we need those with disabilities to live good, long lives. They are us."
Following Greenlee was Laura Carstensen, director of the Stanford Center on Longevity, who also stressed a need for a massive change in our culture, forced by the aging of the populace. "Science and technology got us where we are today [in regard to disease prevention], now we need to it to change the culture in which we live. …