The American Society on Aging (ASA) is one of the nation's leading organizations for professionals in the field of aging. Every year, ASA hosts its annual Aging in America (AiA) conference, bringing together everyone from policy makers to front line workers to share their expertise and learn current and future trends in the field. This year roughly 3,000 professionals converged on sunny Washington, DC and I like to think our energy helped the cherry blossoms hit their peak bloom that week in March.
AiA can be an overwhelming experience, and in DC ballroom-housed general sessions, several hundred workshops, educational posters, an exhibit hall and a myriad of networking receptions spread across two hotels. Site visits to exemplary local programs were also offered.
Even with all these activities, much of the action at conference happens when you meet new people who share your passions or who offer complementary skills and ideas so that new partnerships can develop. This is the magic of AiA; what you or your organization offers can start to shape similar efforts across the country, and who you meet and what you learn can create unexpected areas of growth in your own work and programming.
As I attended sessions I was proud to notice that H.O.M.E.'s mission, vision and services reflect many of the areas presented as important to helping people age.
In the opening general session about the future of community-based services for older adults, Kathy Greenlee, Assistant Secretary for Aging at the US Department of Health and Human Services, Dr. Bruce Chernof, President and CEO of The SCAN Foundation, June Simmons, President and CEO of Partners in Care, Rosanne DiStefano, Executive Director of Elder Services of Merrimack Valley, Inc. andTimothy McNeil, Executive Director of Medical Mall Health Services discussed how leading services must address four comprehensive areas in the lives of older adults:
- physical health,
- social connections/relationships
- emotional health.
The experts commented that programs must achieve stronger connections between these four areas as payment models move toward outcome-based payments. The experts believe that in the near future, the most attractive services will show how they help older adults thrive in their homes or in housing other than nursing homes by addressing the complex connections between the four key areas described above.
The panel also urged non-profit and government providers to scale up technology that allows for better communication across the silos of health and social service systems, or to seek for-profit partners who can help achieve the technological demands of cross-system communication.
Money, Minutes, and Purpose
Ken Dychtwald, President and CEO of Age Wave, Cynthia Hutchins, Director of Financial Gerontology at Bank of America Merrill Lynch and Olympia Terrell, Project Support at Age Wave discussed how older adults, regardless of income level, are eager to contribute "money, minutes and purpose" to causes that both reflect their values and can show them how their support makes a difference.
The panelists stated that while today's retirees account for less than one-third of the adult US population, they already contribute 42% of all dollars donated to charity and nearly half of all volunteer hours. They shared findings from a recent study of retirees that included social connections, mental stimulation and having purpose were some of the top things most missed in retirement.
Given increases in lifespan, the current generation of older adults (and presumably future generations) will have multiple decades in retirement, resulting in the need for both retirees and organizations to discover robust ways for older adults to share their skills and generosity. The speakers also encouraged attendees to create an equal continuum in the field of aging by understanding both what we as professionals do to help older adults and what older adults can give to help us.
Helping Seniors Plan for Housing
In a session that sparked many reactions from attendees via the conference app and social media, Kathleen Pritchard from Legg Masson Global Asset Management explored the challenges of housing and finances in older adulthood. She shared that roughly 37% of an older adult's expenses are related to housing and that the dream of staying at home with a paid off mortgage often doesn't happen.
Though the session content was skewed toward older adults with financial means, the universal lesson was that professionals need to develop ways to get people thinking about the kind of housing and support services they want in older adulthood, then help educate and connect them to available resources to make those plans happen. So, how are you planning for housing? Do you know what it takes to maintain your home and yourself as both age? Do you know where to turn to find services that support you and your home? Do you know what housing options exist outside your own home or apartment? What if finances were tight, do you know the many ways H.O.M.E. can help?
Trauma & Affordable Housing
Finally, my biggest conference surprise came in a session about trauma in older African-American women. I didn't expect to find an application to H.O.M.E. in this mental health focused session, but there it was! Dr. Sharon Bowland, Associate Professor and Ayani Woge, Research Assistant, both from Eastern Washington University, described how women with past traumatic experiences engaged (or struggled to engage) in low-income housing.
The presenters discussed how the housing environment can either help heal or perpetuate the long-term effects of trauma. They highlighted factors in housing that may serve as traumatic triggers and behaviors that may indicate a resident is trying to cope with these triggers. They offered trauma informed care approaches to housing and case management that can empower staff of low-income housing to strive toward a supportive environment for all residents.
While Chicago can't offer the potential of March cherry blossoms, we have a strong community of aging services, programs and providers so Aging in America will feel right at home here next year. Save the dates (March 20-24, 2017) and come ready to connect and learn!
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