Locals report on aging conference

Editor’s note: Members of the Hyde Park Older Women’s League (OWL) and Chicago Hyde Park Village (CHPV) wrote this letter sharing their thoughts on this year’s White House Conference on Aging.

The White House Conference on Aging is held every 10 years. This year it was held in Washington, D.C., on July 13 and streamed by computer connection to 600 sites throughout the country. Several Hyde Park representatives from the Hyde Park Older Women’s League (OWL) and Chicago Hyde Park Village (CHPV) joined about 30 to 35 others at a “viewing site” at University of Illinois Chicago (UIC), one of seven sites in Chicago.

The most striking theme discussed at the conference was the population demographics that show there are now 10,000 people turning 65 years of age every day. This is expected to go on for the next 15 years. This many people entering retirement and living for another 20 to 30 years calls for a reexamination of what retirement really is going to be.

Several specific issues were raised regarding caregivers for elderly disabled, financial planning for a secure retirement, intergenerational connections, elder justice and abuse and technology for the aging.

Caregivers are often family members or low-paid staff workers, who receive little support, and those who are paid staff receive poverty-level income. As the elderly population balloons, attention needs to be paid to recognizing the importance of caregivers by giving them a living wage.

Preparing for retirement is often not even on the radar of younger people, and there were several presenters discussing how to make a habit of putting even small amounts aside in an IRA. The important thing is to educate young adults to the power of compounded interest from early investments.

The panel on intergenerational connections pointed out that families now often have multiple generations alive, providing leadership, support and guidance for each other. While this is true for families, we also need to think of ways of connecting non-related generations. One panelist noted how tutoring for elementary grades was one very successful way to use the knowledge and experience of older persons.

Elder abuse, both physical and financial, happens to two out of every 10 senior citizens. Walgreens had a representative who talked about how their clinics are in a position to screen for abuse, and a bank representative talked about how he trained all his staff to spot potential fraud/abuse and coordinated activities with the local police. This banker said he created a “fraud award” for any of his staff who recognized seniors being defrauded and prevented it from happening. He was surprised that he was giving out weekly awards, but gratified at the misery they were heading off.

The technology panel noted that when technology is at its best we don’t even think of it as technology and are certainly not afraid of using it. Microwaves and TVs are examples of routine technology. Computers and smart phones are often thought of as requiring a long learning curve, but the panel noted that engineers are working to make them as routine as the rest of technology we have gotten used to.