All the way back yesterday from the the Positive Aging Conference in St. Petersburg, Florida, I was thinking about the quality of people that come together each year around this issue of positive/intentional aging. We are fortunate to have the quality and committed people from all walks of life who are working to make our culture more empowering for elders and generally supportive of a new way of aging. Even though I return tired and with a sore posterior I have a briefcase full of information, a full notepad and very nice memories. Over the next couple of weeks I will write about some of the thought-provoking information and presentations from the conference.
Generally, here are a few overall thoughts that I took away from the conference.
What's In A Name: Isn't it a little unfortunate that we have a conference called the Positive Aging Conference. That says a lot about what the dominent paradigm on the subject of aging in America. I look forward to the day that we all automatically see this time of life as a natural continuation of human development. A time where we recognize that along with some physical diminishment there is even more room for personal growth and contribution to the culture. A time when we see the value of our elders and create opportunities for elders who choose to play a bigger social role.
Where are our leaders? The conference was keynoted by Bill Thomas, M.D. author, nursing home abolitionist and advocate. He did his job wonderfully and greatly inspired many people in attendance. (I will write more about the specifics of his presentation.) Although I have heard Dr. Bill talk once before he was "on fire" Monday evening. He called on us all to work to change the perceptions and meaning of aging in America starting with own attitudes and biases. He also challenged us to speak out in support of a new aging paradigm.
What was disturbing for me was that other than Bill, there were no other inspiring speakers at the conference. Don't get me wrong, there were many great and very committed people and plenty of good information, but no one else who I would want to put up in front of an audience to lead the way in this movement. Maybe it's a sign of the void Gene Cohen's passing means to us?
Tribute to Gene Cohen: Susan Perlstein, Founder of the National Center for Creative Aging, gave an emotional tribute to Dr Cohen who was the recognized national voice, scientist and advocate for the idea that the human mind is capable of continued develop throughout the life-span and that creativity is the door to unlock this ability. Susan talked about her relationship with Gene at the start of the Center of Creative Aging and with the landmark research project Dr. Cohen did in the 90's.
Best Conference Track: The conference had 4 tracks: Life planning; creativity; wellness; and community. Although, due to timing, I did not get a chance to really delve in to all the tracks I was really taken by the quality of presenters in the "creativity" parts of the conference.
Everything from dance and theater to dreams and writing fairy tales were topical sessions.
Biggest Disappointment: Attendance! If you go on attendance for important gatherings as a measure of growth then we are not doing very well. In 2007 the first Positive Aging Conference brought 300 plus people to St Petersburg. In 2008 the conference was held in St Paul, Minnesota with about 700 people linked in electronically at more than 20 sites across North America. Marylhurst Univ. was one of the sites and we could not find room for all the interested participants settling for a packed house of 80.
Sadly, according to one official at the conference there there were only about 130 enthusiasts at the 2009 version.
Hope each of you will find the interest, time and money to attend next year's conference which will be in Los Angeles.