WASHINGTON – By 10 a.m. Thursday,more than 2,400 people had registered for this year's Aging in America Conference.
Anne Ornelas de Lumos,director of membership for the American Society on Aging,said that number is expected to jump to 3,800 by the end of the four-day conference.
“We're going to run out of bags,” she said about the totes,filled with conference details,that were handed out at registration.
Sessions,which started Wednesday and run through Sunday,are also being held at two other D.C. hotels. Speakers from across the U.S. offered advice,updates and ran Q&A sessions. An intricate web of sessions,with multiple sub-sessions and speakers,dealt with issues such as health care,work and education.
Cathy Stasny,at the conference on behalf of the Area Agency on Aging in Price George's County,Md.,said the conference,which included more than 600 sessions,was a little overwhelming.
Ditching one of the health sessions she planned to attend,Stasny went to a workshop on aging in China. The country's one-child policy is creating a shortage in women,Stasny said,which means fewer caretakers for the elderly. She wanted to hear to hear how the country is coping.
“Sometimes you can learn from other people's problems,” Stasny said.
Another area of interest for Stansy was learning more about providing backup for caregivers and the “unbelievable” stress they shoulder. After her husband broke his neck last summer,she realized what a responsibility it was to care for someone and how much time and energy is required. He recovered fully after wearing a neck brace for seven months.
Stasny's friend and colleague,Camille Crawford,is in charge of Seasoned Adults Growing Educationally,a program at Prince George's Community College. Through the school,people are given job training and taught computer skills.
Both women said people in their late 40s,especially those retiring from military jobs, have opportunities to do what they want.
“They're more active,” Crawford said. “They are younger older people.”
Donna Harvey said she came to the conference to learn about new ways to package the message that she provides to this younger,more active group. Harvey,52,came from Waterloo,Iowa,where she is the executive director of the Hawkeye Valley Area Agency on Aging.
After more than 20 years working in the field,she said she is seeing a shift in the baby boomer generation. People in their late 40s and early 50s are setting themselves apart from their parents' generation.
As of July 2005,there were more than 78 million baby boomers,who made the age group of 55 to 59 years old the fastest growing group in the country,according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
What they want is not just a way to prolong life,Harvey said,but a way to improve it through exercise,travel and education. Her agency is working with universities in Iowa because “people are hungry to continue their education,no matter how old they are.”
A vacation for Harvey's grandmother,who is in her 90s,is normally a bus ride to Kentucky to visit family. Her parents,who are in their 70s,are “much more into going to historical sites and museums,” she said. Harvey said she thinks her generation is more willing to jump on flights to other countries.
Backpacking through Europe or mountain climbing may sound like activities for 20-year-olds,but Harvey said she “doesn't think there's much difference anymore” between the two generations.
“We're probably not going to want to play bingo,” she said.
Keynote speaker Maya Angelou ended the first day of the conference by sharing childhood stories and reading a few poems,including “Seven Women's Blessed Assurance,” “On Aging,” and one she wrote after the United Nations asked her to write a poem “for the world.”
She emphasized how she “relishes” her age and called on everyone in the audience “to be present” in every aspect of their lives.
“Who knows how far their influences reaches,” she said,urging older people not to think of themselves dismissively. “We have no idea who you will influence.”
The Pulitzer Prize winning author entered the stage with a slow chant of “I'll be moving on,” and when she left,audience members returned the favor as they stood and sang “Happy Birthday.” Angelou turns 80 on April 4.