Disillusion was the takeaway after attended yet another conference on aging. I expected a different outcome but got more of the same, again. Yipes, isn’t that the definition of insanity.
For my own sanity, I thought I’d share my cynical observations and selfish recommendations to make future gatherings on long-term services and supports less predictable and more provocative.
- Increase participation by older adults, the conference’s actual target audience. This will at least create the semblance of inclusivity, of representing “us” not “them.”
- Remind special guest speakers of the professional commitment of conference participants. And that beginning a presentation with “This issue is very personal to me” may come across as patronizing and disingenuous, as though the only reason this matters is because it affects you personally.
- Also, remind policymakers who ask attendees to “Please tell me what I can do to help” to please actually acknowledge the advice they do receive.
- Include a workshop with a panel of “age-beat” journalists, who can offer attendees valuable insight into the public’s pulse, interests and opinions.
- Include presenters who exemplify healthy, purposeful longevity. Highlight older adults whose self-determination and self-empowerment demonstrate how they remain relevant and productive, and buck stereotypes.
- If one exists, feature a politician who was elected to office based on a platform championing healthy, purposeful longevity.
- Examine the broader context of aging concerns. Include presenters (and encourage attendees!) from complementary disciplines, such as economics, technology, human resources, justice, city planning and cultural anthropology, among others.
- Be provocative and newsworthy. Include subject matter to entice media coverage, so the conference’s messages extend beyond the attendees.
- Consider contributions by experts from other countries. Because the United States is a comparatively young country, European and Asian responses to their older populations could offer useful indicators, models and solutions.
- And, last but hardly least, because time is always tight, lay out ground rules to prevent so zealous audience members from hijacking sessions with self-indulgent monologues.