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Top 12 Lessons on Aging for Teachers of Adults

From the 2012 Aging in America Conference


April 12, 2012--We occupied Washington for a few days in March, together with thousands of other adult and continuing education teachers, at the 2012 Aging in America Conference presented by the American Society on Aging. This convocation is the premier educational, networking, and trade event in this burgeoning field, with top speakers, scholars, authors, and practitioners present.

For those of us in Continuing Education, the conference was rich in information, insights, and inspiration. Here are our top takeaways out of the hundreds of workshops, celebrity-filled plenaries, poster sessions, and hallway chatter.

1. The Number of Senior Learners Is Increasing

Ken Dychtwald by Sandy Huffaker - American Society on Aging
Ken Dychtwald by Sandy Huffaker - American Society on Aging
More senior learners are coming! The "Age Wave," which Ken Dychtwald foresaw a decade ago, has become a tsunami! Every day in America, 10,000-plus baby boomers turn 65, and they are transforming America's social and political landscapes. It's time to re-examine your prospective clientele and think freshly about how you can serve, and benefit from, this mega-trend.

How about planning to make 2013 your "Year of the Seniors" in programming, promotion, planning, and grant-seeking? Visit dychtwald.com for ideas and more information.

Also about Ken Dychtwald: How Baby Boomers Will Change Retirement from Sharon O'Brien

2. Boomers Are Transforming Society

Gail Sheehy by Sandy Huffaker - American Society on Aging
Gail Sheehy by Sandy Huffaker - American Society on Aging
Welcome to the Gerontocracy! Boomers don't just populate existing life stages, social movements or consumer trends--they transform them. Your offerings should reflect new opportunities and challenge seniors to play an active role.

Gail (Passages) Sheehy told conference-goers: "The mid-50s to the early 70s are the 'Grand Tweens,' the pioneers and pathfinders among us who will shape this new stage of life."

We can find clues about what's to come from other eras and from what is happening in other cultures. Adrianna Huffington noted pointedly that, "Aging is so dramatically different where I come from. There is a reverence for people getting older in Greece. There is a realization that you have lived this life and now have wisdom to impart. You see the same sense of village elders in so many cultures, but not in America."


One initiative that is pointing the way in the U.S. is The Transition Network. From TTN's website: "TTN envisions life as a series of transitions--from active parent to empty-nester… family member to caregiver… employee to entrepreneur, volunteer or retiree… who we are now to who we want to be next."

3. It Is Imperative that Seniors Vote

Statue of Liberty by Comstock - Getty Images
Comstock - Getty Images
Elections in the United States in 2012 and beyond, particularly the presidential and congressional elections, will be watersheds for aging policies. Your clientele needs to know about the implications for them!

Get your local spokespersons, advocates, and politicos together with the public and provide educational opportunities to help voters make informed decisions.

4. Health Is a Major Focus

Paul Nussbaum by Sandy Huffaker - American Society on Aging
Paul Nussbaum by Sandy Huffaker - American Society on Aging
Health, including brain health, is a major focus of clinical research and consumer interest. There were over 100 sessions at the conference on health, covering topics from Alzheimer's, diabetes, and falling to aromatherapy, pet therapy, and walking the labyrinth.

The phrase "brain-body" was a leitmotif, tying the two words together to emphasis their inextricable inter-relationship. And the issues went beyond amelioration and prevention to the optimization of physical/mental functioning.

Eminent neuropsychologist Dr. Paul Nussbaum declared: "The human brain remains a mystery and an untapped source of energy. I believe it to be perhaps the last and greatest frontier for our personal discovery."

5. Training Is Needed in Caregiving

Eldercare by Bambu Productions - Getty Images
Bambu Productions - Getty Images
Caregivers--both family and professionals--need information, support, and skills. Baby boomers currently comprise 26% of our nation's population. That's 78 million people! Many need help through the aging journey, including navigating transitions of care, emotional struggles, and the practical questions of finding and financing care that fits specific needs.

Visit the National Center on Caregiving, and check out the superb resources provided by the United Hospital Fund at NextStepsinCare.org.

Consider training professional caregivers, too. Over the next 20 years, the cohort of people ages 85 and older will increase five-fold. The development of a quality eldercare workforce is no longer a back-burner issue: America will need an additional 3.5 million healthcare workers by 2030 just to maintain the current ratio of workers to the population. You can help meet the demand and forge a strong, well-trained and fairly-compensated eldercare workforce. Options are reviewed at CareGiverList.com.

6. Hunger and Malnutrition Are a Priority

Senior with veggies by Vanessa Gavalya - Getty Images
Vanessa Gavalya - Getty Images
Join the campaign to focus attention on hunger and malnutrition. The grave maladies that result from these issues should be a priority for all of us. With food and energy prices soaring, millions of older Americans are going hungry and, increasingly, going it alone as their safety net frays. Food initiatives for those who helped build the Great Society are a social contract that cannot be broken. The case is made on the Senior Hunger page at Feeding America.

7. Art Is a Cornerstone of Creative Aging

Woman playing piano by Jupiterimages - Getty Images
Jupiterimages - Getty Images
Involvement in the arts should be a cornerstone of creative aging. Elders are enriching their lives by performing, painting, making music, writing, and improvising. A central source for information, connections, and inspiration is the National Center for Creative Aging.

Related blog.

8. Life Review Empowers People

Lorraine Peterson at 13 in 1940
Lorraine Peterson
Life review is a proven, enjoyable, empowering way to live more meaningfully. Teach your adult students how to tell the stories of their lives. We've written about this for About.com in our article: Telling the Stories of Your Life

9. New Products and Services Are Coming

Woman with walker by Don Smetzer - Getty Images
Don Smetzer - Getty Images
Intriguing new products and services are in the pipeline. MIT has set up an AgeLab, which has produced AGNES (Age Gain Now Empathy System). The system enables you to feel, first-hand, the physical limitations of aging.

And individual entrepreneurs, in their garages, are coming up with ingenious gizmos. We found some on display in the vast Exhibition Hall at the conference. One of our favorites is the Mobilaser, a simple device that attaches to the walker of a Parkinson patient and projects a red laser line on the floor. By stepping on the line, the patient's gait is effortlessly stabilized.

10. Falling Is the No. 1 Cause of Injury Deaths

Woman with cane by Vincent Besnault - Getty Images
Vincent Besnault - Getty Images
Falling is the No. 1 cause of injury deaths for people 65 and older. One in 3 elders falls each year, with 20-30% suffering moderate to severe injuries, and 10% requiring hospitalization. The direct costs amount to more than $28 billion. Experts and practitioners at the conference reported that falls can be reduced by 30-40% by performing a "multi-factorial fall risk screening," and then referring prospective fallers for tailored treatment.

A leader in the field is Fox Rehabilitation, which features the stirring credo of their dedicated exercise physiologists: "I reconnect to strength. I regenerate laughter. I restore belief. I rekindle dreams."

Related: More Seniors Face Injury and Death from Falling Down from Sharon O'Brien

11. The Aging LGBT Community Needs Support

Bicycles by Arthur Tilley - Getty Images
Arthur Tilley - Getty Images
Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) aging should be recognized and supported, as delineated in the new report on Aging and Health, which reveals both the resilience of people in this category and the disparities in health outcomes with which they must deal. See Gray Pride Parade for the full report. (The "Gray" is intended.)

Related: Caring for LGBT Seniors from Anthony Cirillo

12. Joining ASA Will Keep You Educated

American Society on Aging
American Society on Aging
To keep abreast of the newest and best in the field, consider joining the American Society on Aging. It's your best possible investment in making the most of this burgeoning frontier of continuing education theory and practice.
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