Highlights from the Aging in America 2019 Conference

By Linda Jackson
AAI Program Director

My top takeaways from the American Society on Aging’s Aging in America 2019 Conference in New Orleans:

Race, politics and aging: where do we go from here?
#1: Go to other people’s conferences to learn outside your box.
#2: Elevate the voice of diverse older people.
#3 Ask older people what they want.
These are all things we can do today, in our organizations.

National advocacy is still alive. I hear this in different forums: even with the political divide, the work in Washington continues. What’s on the horizon? Prescription drug costs. Paying for health, not healthcare. Brain health. Elder justice. Long-term care. Dental care as part of, and not separate from, healthcare. And reauthorization of the Older Americans Act.

Mobility is inherent to our species. Accessibility is inherent to our setting. Autonomous vehicles may not be the panacea that promoters advertise. Initial studies show that there will be more mobility for younger, older, and disabled people. There will also be more traffic. And completely autonomous cars are still decades in the future.

AARP researchers described a universal mobility program in Denmark, called Flex Danmark.  This unified program successfully brought two dozen transit agency CEOs together to use a hi-tech open platform to share costs and services across the country. The CEOs recognized the country had an unsustainable model financially and functionally. The result, Flex Danmark, resulted in cost savings of 20-40% and increased mobility for everyone. AARP is looking for a place in the U.S. to test this model. Maybe in the Bay Area?

The Human Rights Campaign Foundation and SAGE unveiled a new tool to improve the experiences of LGBTQ older adults as they seek long-term care and services. Want to ensure that your residential facility provides equitable and inclusive care? Check out Long-Term Care Equality Index.

West Health Policy Summit’s blunt facts about America’s healthcare system: the U.S. ranks #1 in healthcare cost per person out of 36 OECD countries, yet 56% of Americans believe we have the best healthcare in the world. As Tim Lash of West Health (BOOKMARK THIS SITE!) put it, “U.S. healthcare today is a theft of three generations.” Seniors are selling their homes to pay for healthcare; workers are quitting at 50 be a caregiver for their parents; and younger people do not have the health insurance they need and deserve. “The healthcare crisis has become personal for all of us.”

Song for our times? One moderator asked his panelists (national leaders working in public policy advocacy) for a song or movie that represented these years. Here are the answers:

  • Dark Knight Rises
  • Runaway
  • Matrix
  • Silence of the Lambs
  • Armageddon

One word: yikes!

The ASA session about “Working Together When You Don’t Speak the Same Language: Collaborative Networks.” Joining me for this AAI-sponsored session were Shirin Vakharia from Marin Community Foundation, Lee Pullen from Marin’s Aging & Adult Services, and Joe O’Hehir from Whistlestop. Our message was that when we work as a collaborative network, both larger and smaller organizations develop a broader vision of their work, share resources and build greater capacity to make those innovations that have better results.

We each shared a word that meant something unique in our own professional niche: vision, collaboration, decision process, and advocacy.

So be careful out there! In a cross-sector, anti-silo environment, we must not assume we are all using the same vocabulary. In the end, it’s this diversity that makes us stronger as a collective effort.

Til next time,


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Introducing AAI’s Detect&Connect Coordinator!

By Ellen Baxter
AAI Detect& Connect Program Coordinator

Gracie Allen once said, “Never place a period where God intended a comma.” She was a wise lady, and it’s a fitting quote for the Aging Action Initiative.

My name is Ellen Baxter, and I am the new Community Outreach Coordinator for AAI’s Detect&Connect program.  I’m thrilled to join this active and caring community of advocates for older adults in Marin County.

AAI is a unique organization with great energy and passion for promoting age-friendly spaces and advocating for the needs of older adults. We know people are best served when we collaborate through awareness, education, kindness, and service coordination.

Detect&Connect is an educational workshop designed to teach best methods to effectively connect with older people, especially those who appear confused or in need of emotional support. Our workshop guides the process to determine how to recognize levels of need and concern, along with teaching ways to connect folks to the best community resources.

We have gathered a team of professional trainers to guide groups through an informative and interactive educational process. All of our trainers bring specialized backgrounds working with older adults. We also offer bilingual training. Our team is highly qualified to offer you individualized training with streamlined answers to meet the specific needs of your group.

People have asked, “Who should attend the Detect & Connect workshops?” My answer is, “Anyone!” Everyone interacts with older people in Marin.

Maybe you are a trained social worker interacting with clients daily. Maybe you are a first responder answering calls for falls or other medical emergencies. Perhaps you are part of a faith community or a volunteer group. You might be a bus driver — or just ride the bus.

Whether it’s at home, work, or in the grocery story, we all encounter neighbors, friends, and family members who may act confused or disoriented. Knowing how to be supportive, whether for daily need or urgent care, is a valuable tool.

Detect&Connect was designed for just about everyone. Even better — it’s a free workshop for your organization! We would love to reach every person in Marin with the Detect&Connect program. Please reach out to me at ellen@agingactioninitiative.org to schedule or with questions. I look forward to hearing from you.

Gracie Allen was a brilliant lady who would understand the challenges of taking care of each other in today’s world. Please join us in the advancement of awareness and action on behalf of aging adults in Marin County. Together, we will grow a space where older adults can confidently punctuate their lives with commas.

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Ashton Applewhite Wisdom

By Linda Jackson
AAI Program Director

Last month, Ashton Applewhite (This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism) stopped by to meet with Marin’s age-friendly activists at Whistlestop. Her impassioned consciousness-raising against ageism inspired me to look at my own assumptions and prejudices. These assumptions build up the walls that prevent the connectedness we need to make changes for the better in our healthcare systems, employment practices, and societal engagement.

Last night, Jim and I walked over to Arriverderci for dessert. Sitting at a table in the bar was a friend and her friend, both in their 80s. They lamented the fact that San Rafael closed down so early. Every day, my older friends prove to me that stereotypes of older people are purely myths.

Yet, in the last month, three different sales people called me “my dear,” as in “Here you go, my dear.” This isn’t any better than the other name I recently acquired: “miss.” I haven’t been a miss for decades. Perhaps these are now the politically correct things to say to women of a certain age at the cash register? It’s not working for me.

In response, here are my top ten Ashton Applewhite maxims:

10. “When someone says, ‘You look great for your age,’ I say brightly, ‘You look great for your age too!’” I wish I had Ashton on my shoulder to whisper a non-condescending response to those who call me “my dear!”

9. “There is no such thing as ‘age-appropriate.’” Ashton quotes Swedish sociologist lars Tornstam who points out that older people have “a feeling of being a child, a young person, an adult, middle age and old — all at once!  Ashton calls it being an “old person in training.”

8. “As we age, we blame ourselves for a vast range of circumstances not of our making and over which we have no control.” In fact, we need to look at our society’s predilection to medicalizing getting older. To be fair, there is also a tendency to look at teenagers as being in the midst of a medical condition.

7. “Fifty percent of workers over 50 are pushed out of their jobs.” No wonder so many older people are strapped for cash.

6. “People fifty and up fuel the significant, fast-growing and often overlooked “‘longevity economy.’” Who do you think is keeping Marin’s restaurants open? Go out for dinner any night, and you’ll see that it’s older people who are supporting the wonderful restaurants of Marin’s cities and towns.  

5. “Aging-in-place is aging-into-isolation.” In Marin, we are trapped by the lack of housing choices. There are few options available for empty-nesters who want to move from their family home to something smaller, closer to stores and friends.

4. “The bull looks different once you enter the ring.” Or, we don’t know what it will be like to be with the bull until we’re IN the ring looking at it. I didn’t know what 60 would be like when I was 50, let alone 40. I don’t have a clue what 80 or 90 will be like.

3. “We need to change ‘we can’t fix that’ to ‘we CAN fix that.’” These days, in simply living our lives, older people face structural systems that limit our options to education, jobs, healthcare, and safety. We don’t have to accept this.

2. “Ageism is the ‘othering’ of our own future self.” We have to reject attempts to impose stereotypes about ourselves in the future. Some bicyclists argued that assist-bikes shouldn’t be allowed on Marin’s trails, even though some day they will need those same bikes to enjoy the paths they climb easily today. Fortunately, the recent debate about assist-bikes in Marin’s open space ended with (partial) equal access for all who want to bike in open space.

1. “Age is a criterion of diversity.” We bring a fourth dimension/time perspective and wisdom from decades of experience that adds an essential insight to every discussion. Diversity is not just in skin color, background, income, or gender. What might an age-friendly-to-all world look like? When anyone asks for a diverse representation, we must say that an older person needs to be included.

Want to learn tools to make Marin more age-friendly to all? Please join us for our annual Convening on April 30 at the Lodge at Tiburon. Spots are going fast, so please register now!

As Ashton says: Cheer up, and push back.

Bring it on!


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Equity Plan Neglects Older Adults

Below is a copy of AAI Steering Committee member Teri Dowling’s comments to the Board of Supervisors on February 12.

Supervisors, my name is Teri Dowling and I’m speaking on behalf of myself as an older person living in Marin County. While I do serve on the Marin Commission on Aging and sit on the Aging Action Initiative Steering Committee, the comments I am making today are mine alone.

I want to start by saying that I very much appreciate the work and care of so many people that went into the development of the Health and Human Services Strategic Plan. A focus on racial equity is an extremely important, timely, and cross-cutting goal for this county.  

However, I was surprised that there was so little, if any, mention in the Strategic Plan of older people of color, whereas other age groups such as children and youth are specifically mentioned.

With that point in mind, over the next year the county will produce an Age-Friendly Strategic Plan for Marin. The county’s Aging and Adult Services office will produce a four-year plan that is required by the Older Americans Act. As you are aware, nearly 30 percent of the population in Marin is over 60 years of age, with 9 percent non-white. Of all older adults in Marin, 5 percent live at or below the federal poverty level, and another 21 percent struggle to make ends meet each month. A focus on aging equity would certainly seem to be a very good second chapter to this current Health and Human Services Strategic Plan.  

Moving forward:

  1. I would recommend that the Board of Supervisors request Health and Human services address older people of color in this Strategic Plan.
  2. I urge the Board of Supervisors to actively involve the Commission on Aging and other older adult and disability advocacy groups in setting criteria for the new HHS Director and participating on the interview panel.  
  3. I also urge the Board to make sure that Aging and Adult Services has a voice and presence at the executive leadership level of Health and Human Services. These efforts will help ensure that aging equity is at the table.

Thank you.

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A New Approach to Aging Advocacy

Last month I visited my sister to celebrate her 80th birthday at her home in paradise (Hawaii!). She lives in a well-connected community of friendly ex-pat retirees. Even with the certainty that she has a wide circle of resources around her, it dawned on me on the flight home that I have again joined the universe of people who worry about the health and happiness of someone they love.  

I came home to some satisfying substantial collaborating. AAI has teamed up with the Marin Commission on Aging, Marin Age-Friendly, and Marin’s Area Agency on Aging (a.k.a. “AAA”) for intentional and extensive advocacy for the 71,000 people over 60 in Marin.

In reading Marin Health and Human Services’ recently completed Strategic Plan to Achieve Health and Wellness Equity, many of us were struck that in discussing the health and human service needs of Marin 250,000 residents, there were only two mentions of older people! We enthusiastically endorse the improvement in the outreach, sensitivity, and efficacy of services for people of color. At the same time, we are compelled to speak up about the physical, mental, and emotional health of older people of all backgrounds.

When we look through the lens of aging equity, we see that older people are treated differently, even though aging is something that everyone gets to do. As incomes from social security and pensions shrink and health and housing expenses increase over the years, older people in high-priced Marin face challenging decisions about where to live (some have no choice but their car), what to eat, and how to pay for health care. Combine these with the depression that comes from loneliness that can build up with the loss of families and friends, and we have a list of issues that Health and Human Services should focus on, along with their work to expand staff’s capacity in working with people of different backgrounds.

The new AAI/COA/AF/AAA alliance for advocacy stepped out at a couple of recent Board of Supervisors meetings (see Teri Dowling’s comments in this newsletter). We are all following up on the recent All. Together. Now summit about economic security for older people in Marin. And we are planning AAI’s 2019 Convening on April 30 in Tiburon.

The Convening is our signature event for the year. At our annual gathering, we will reconnect with each other for the next year. We will explore the intersection of equity and ageism. We will learn what’s new from the national American Society on Aging conference. And we will build our skill levels in advocacy for economic security, housing, aging-in-community, and transportation.

A new component this year will be afternoon tracks so people can dive deeper into two of three topics: Inform&Connect about difficult conversations, Age-Friendly Planning, and Economic Security about naming issues and exploring solutions. These sessions will all further our education, innovation, and advocacy work in the next year.

If you want to change the conversation and affect public policy to change practices, if you want to find partners to leverage your work to be more effective, if you want to advocate for policies and programs to improve the lives of older people, then you will want to join us.

If you want to make a difference for the older person in your life, be it a sister, aunt or grandfather, then you will want to be in Tiburon on April 30.

Sign up early to ensure a spot at the table! I look forward to seeing you there.

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