I’ve been fortunate to attend American Society on Aging’s annual conference, several times over my 30+ year career in the field of aging. This year’s Aging in America (AiA) Conference was held April 15-18, 2019 in New Orleans. It’s the largest national conference (3,000+ attendees) covering issues of aging and quality of life for older adults. Over the decades, I’ve watched it grow and mature. Many workshop topics of years ago are now focused tracks that include:
- Aging in Community
- Business & Leadership
- Diversity & Cultures of Aging
- Health Wellness & Care Transitions
- Integrated Healthcare Networks
- Law & Aging
- Mental Health
- Policy & Advocacy
- and Technology & Innovation.
When I first started attending these conferences as CEO of a regional nonprofit, my focus was trying to assure alignment of our local aging services programs with national trends and identifying and often borrowing best-practices and creative approaches. As years went by, my attention became personal as well as professional. In the blink of an eye, I was over 50 and a caregiver to aging parents. In another blink, I’m now over 70 and part of the older adult cohort that’s the focus of so many workshops. With this attendance, I was representing Sarasota County’s Age-Friendly Sarasota initiative supported by The Patterson Foundation (TPF). Besides attending many quality sessions, I co-presented a workshop with my talented TPF consultant colleague Erika Kelly.
Our presentation, "Every Community Can Create an Age-Friendly Festival," was based on the highly successful, first in the country (and nationally recognized) Festival that took place at the Sarasota County Fairgrounds in November 2017.
Our main session goal was to show how such events can be powerful community engagement movers — propelling local age-friendly efforts into stronger community-wide movements. The well-attended session provided a replicable roadmap to creating an event, scalable to any community. It also highlighted the value of the process, with benefits extending well beyond the event itself.
My own selection of workshop attendance followed the focus of my current affiliation with Age-Friendly Sarasota and related statewide & national efforts. A session of special note, Going Age-Friendly: Creative Community Engagement Techniques, was a dual presentation by two age-friendly cities, Seattle and Pittsburgh.
- A major goal of Pittsburgh is making neighborhoods more inclusive and respectful of every generation. They directly engaged residents in envisioning projects they could do in their neighborhoods, with the approach that no initiative is too small for their age-friendly campaign. Your Assets, Your Challenges, Your Innovative Ideas initiative created special community ownership of the process.
- Age-Friendly Seattle had its own spin, creating unique forums that focused on community equity. They organized fun, inclusive events and built on existing community events and activities to engage-at-every-age. A “hackathon” (look it up) took advantage of Seattle’s open data program to allow those who are tech-savvy to mine data and build-out unique project pitches to advance local age-friendliness.
A few other sessions of note included:
- "Building Age-Friendly Health Systems One Community at a Time" presented by The John A. Hartford Foundation and its partners with the goal to expand its framework for age-friendly care, reaching 20% of U.S. health systems by 2020. The framework focuses on the 4M’s: What Matters, Medication, Mentation & Mobility.
- "Addressing Social & Behavioral Determinants of Health: A National Integrated System for Healthy Living" was presented by the National Council on Aging (NCOA). NCOA, with the support of The Patterson Foundation, is the aging hub of the national 100 Million Lives initiative. The importance of securing and utilizing common, shared measurement data was stressed.
- "Aging Strong 2020: Improving the Health & Well-Being of Older Adults" sponsored by United Healthcare and presented by AARP and partners. It focused on efforts for healthcare transformation, delivering on the promise of quality care through better outcomes, experience, and affordability. Innovation shared included the use of animatronic pets to reduce loneliness and enhance positive aging.
The 2019 AiA Conference showcased a myriad of different initiatives and creative approaches that support age-friendly communities, age-friendly health systems, and healthy aging. The (still young) age-friendly movement appears to be thriving with such efforts and opportunities to connect, learn, and share. I’ve been fortunate to watch the evolution of the Aging in America Conference and its attendees like myself. It’s good news for all of us. Remember, in the blink of an eye………