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Aging in America Conference, March 26-30, 2008

2008 Conference of the National Council on Aging and American Society on Aging

The 2008 Conference of the National Council on Aging and American Society on Aging took place March 26-30 in Washington, D.C., and attracted about 3,600 attendees including gerontologists, social workers, senior center directors, geriatricians and directors of nursing. Topics included family caregiving, chronic disease self-management, and the effect the upcoming national elections may have on issues affecting seniors.

"There were about 700 presentations and sessions," said Paul Kleyman, editor of the American Society on Aging newspaper, Aging Today. "One of the most important themes was family caregiving. There were so many sessions proposed and accepted for presentation that we decided to make it the topic of the final plenary session."

Author Gail Sheehy, whose 1976 book Passages: Predictable Crises of Adult Life was on the New York Times best-seller list for three years -- spoke about her recent experiences caring for her terminally ill husband during a session entitled "Uncharted Passage: The Caregiving Crisis in America." Sheehy also moderated an expert panel that included Robyn Golden, director of Older Adult Programs, Rush University Medical Center, and 2006-2008 chair of the ASA Board of Directors; Kathy Brandt, vice president of Professional Leadership, Consumer and Caregiver Services, National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization; Louis Colbert, director of Delaware County Office of Services for the Aging; and Lynn Friss Feinberg, deputy director of National Center on Caregiving, Family Caregiver Alliance, and Heinz Senate Fellow in Aging.

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At the conference, the National Council on Aging and the Stanford University School of Medicine Patient Education Research Center announced a new partnership to promote an online version of the Chronic Disease Self-Management Program, a six-week course that teaches patients how to manage common problems associated with a wide range of chronic conditions. The program has been taught to small groups and has produced good results, said Scott Parkin, vice president of communications for the National Council on Aging.

Online students will have access to password-protected, interactive Web-based educational material, bulletin board discussion groups and a resource library. "The work Stanford and the National Council on Aging are doing in the management of chronic diseases is an essential part of real health care reform," Mark McClellan, M.D., a member of the National Council on Aging Board of Directors, said in a statement. "Better prevention means healthier seniors and lower costs related to preventable complications of chronic diseases."

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How to keep seniors intellectually engaged was the topic of many presentations. "There was a great deal of discussion about the lack of opportunities for older people to continue working," Kleyman said. "The Supreme Court has ruled that it's OK for employers to discriminate against older workers unless they can prove overt ageism. That was a major theme of the conference."

Older people even lack the opportunity to volunteer at non-profit organizations. "The vast majority of non-profits in the United States are not set up to train, supervise and monitor and integrate well-educated older people into their organizations on a volunteer basis. That's a significant issue, especially given the cutbacks affecting non-profits and community organizations," Kleyman said.

"The brain continues to be big topic of discussion, with research showing that creative endeavors and creativity should go way beyond making macrame placemats," Kleyman added. "There's research showing that involvement in creative programs improves older people's overall health, including their physical and mental health outcomes." At the conference, the National Center for Creative Aging premiered its new evidence-based "Creativity Matters: Arts and Aging Toolkit."

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"There was a lot of talk about the upcoming presidential election, with detailed comparison of the candidates' stands on health care issues as they relate to older people," Kleyman said. "The consensus was that none of the major candidates deals with the underlying issue of long-term care for an aging America. No one has a plan. They're all looking at cost-control."

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One of the plenary sessions included talks by Neera Tanden, director of Policy for Sen. Hillary Clinton; Nancy Altman, Retirement Security Policy Committee member for Sen. Barack Obama; and Washington Post political columnist E.J. Dionne, Jr.

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Several well-attended sessions covered issues such as fall prevention, shingles, innovations in adaptive technology and poverty. "There's a general perception that because seniors have Medicare and Social Security and a new drug benefit that they're pretty much taken care of," Parkin said. "But that's a myth. There are still a significant number of seniors living in poverty."

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Physician's Briefing