LTC Must Be Placed on Candidates’ Radar Screen

Published in the Woonsocket Call on May 29, 2016

Presidential candidates might just think twice about their political campaign positions on long-term care. With the graying of nation’s voters, Congress will be pushed to put long-term care on its policy agenda. When the dust settles after the Democratic and GOP conventions, the winning candidates must address long-term care issues in their debates before the November election.

In 2013, America’s age 65 or older population made up only 14 percent of the total population, but by 2040, this demographic group will nearly double to comprise about 22 percent. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services the majority of these individuals will require some form of long-term care services (specifically, help with activities of daily living—such as cooking, bathing, or remembering to take medicine—that can be provided in a home or institutional setting.)

Misconceptions About Medicare and Social Security

Survey results in a 17 page report, “Long-Term Care in America: Expectations and Preferences for Care and Caregiving, released by Associated Press (AP)-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, notes that most older Americans expect Medicare and Social Security to pay for long-term care services while these federal programs generally do not. The survey findings also indicate that respondents, age 40 and over, strongly supported public policies that help a person save for long-term care services and for those that defray the cost of care giving, including state paid family leave programs.

“This survey provides much-needed data on how people perceive the issue of long-term care in the United States,” says Trevor Tompson, director of The AP-NORC Center, in a statement released on May 16, 2016 with the survey findings… “The need for long-term care services and support to assist seniors with activities of daily living is increasing exponentially. Financing high-quality services so that the costs are manageable for families and governments will remain a big challenge for decision-makers,” he added.

“Older Americans of today and tomorrow have a 50 percent chance of living with substantial and often expensive daily needs,” adds Dr. Bruce A. Chernof, President and CEO of The SCAN Foundation. “Medicare and Social Security were not built to cover long-term care, leaving American families unprotected, and as the survey shows, unaware of this fact,” he says.

The AP-NORC survey found that while older Americans’ confidence in being financially prepared to pay for long-term care services remains low overall, there has been a slight increase in public confidence over the past four years, consistent with other measures of consumer confidence post-recession, according to the Consumer Confidence Index. In 2013, 27 percent reported feeling very or extremely confident in their ability to pay for long-term care, increasing to 29 percent in 2014, 32 percent in 2015, and 36 percent in 2016.

The polling finds reveal that a widespread misconception as to what Medicare covers for long-term care services. Older respondents, with an annual household incomes less than $50,000, are more likely to expect to rely on government programs such as Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, while those with higher incomes expect to rely more on personal savings to pay for their needed long-term care services. Still, 3 in 10 of these wealthier older Americans report that they will rely on Medicare to support their care as they age. This reflects common misperceptions among older Americans about the long-term care services that Medicare covers, notes the AP-NORC survey.

Thumbs Up to Aging in Place

Seventy seven percent of the survey respondents would prefer to “age in place” and receive care in their own home, w with far fewer preferring to receive care in a senior community (11 percent), a friend or family member’s home (4 percent), or a nursing home (4 percent). Among those respondents who prefer to receive care at home, there are gender differences in preferences for who provides that care: men would prefer to receive care from a spouse (51 percent vs. 33 percent), and women would prefer to receive care from their children (14 percent vs. 35 percent).

There is widespread support for policies to help caregivers face the costs of providing long-term care, with 72 percent supporting state programs to provide paid family leave, 83 percent supporting tax breaks for caregivers, and 73 percent supporting a Social Security earnings credit for caregivers taking time out from the workforce to provide care.

According to the AP-NORC survey, forty-three percent of the survey respondents have either been caregivers in the past or currently providing long-term care to a family member or close friend. Among those with experience as caregivers, 4 in 10 report having to miss work to provide care.

The researchers found that prior experience with long-term care is associated with greater support for several public policies to help people finance long-term care and to help alleviate costs for caregivers. These individuals expressed higher levels of concern about aging and are more likely to anticipate that it is at least somewhat likely that a loved one will need care in the next five years, compared to those without direct care giving experience.

Finally, one-third of the survey respondents reported having done no planning at all for their own long-term care needs. This 2016 finding is similar to the 31 percent who said the same in 2015 and remains lower than the 47 percent and 44 percent who said they had done no planning in 2014 and 2013, respectively.
One Size Does Not Fit All

Meghan Connelly, Chief Program Development at Rhode Island’s Division of Elderly Affairs, provides some thoughts about the findings of the AP-NORC survey. “Long-term care options are not “one-size-fits-all”. In Rhode Island, there are a number of choices one can make, ranging from living independently and receiving care at home to nursing home care. This report highlights that consumers want options when it comes to making these decisions for themselves, or assisting loved ones with long term care choices,” she says…

Connelly adds, the AP-NORC survey “supports the findings of past research: that the overwhelming majority of people want to receive long term care services at home,” noting that in the Ocean State there are many home- and community-based care options. She says that”home care may be available through a physician’s office; at the time of discharge from a hospital or nursing home; or through referrals to state-subsidized programs administered by agencies under the Executive Office of Health and Human Services.”

“The AP-NORC survey also underscores the need to adopt progressive financial policies that support family caregivers who provide the greatest percentage of needed long term care to their elderly or disabled loved ones at home,” warns Connelly.

Greg Crist, Senior Vice President of Public Affairs at the Washington, D.C.-based American Health Care Association (AHCA), notes, “This data generally tracks what our own research has shown: Americans don’t think of this topic every day, and honestly, this is a topic they’d rather avoid. No one likes the thought of aging, and with that aging, the increasing likelihood they will help in their later years. No one welcomes a loss of independence. But here’s the good news – the sector is adapting and innovating.”

Crist asserts nursing homes are meeting the challenge of caring for aging baby boomers. “We’re meeting the growing demands of Boomers, particularly as clinical needs grow, but also in offering amenities such as custom dietary menus, social media communities, and personal rehab care plans that speed recovery times. Whether in Rhode Island or elsewhere, this is an evolving health practice, recognizing that change is needed to meet the new preferences of older Americans,” notes Crist.

Listen to the Older Voters

The AP-NORC survey findings mirror other “long-term care perception” studies released by AHCA and AARP. Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and GOP standard bearer Donald Trump must not forget the needs of America’s exponentially growing older population. These older voters do not want to fall through the nation’s public policy safety net when they require the most assistance, paying for costly long-term care services. As the survey report notes, older Americans strongly support Family Leave programs and also call for government administered Long Term Care Insurance programs.

For a copy of the report go to

Honoring the Fallen: Author salutes Pawtucket residents who died in Vietnam War

Published in Senior Digest, May 2016

For over 30 years, Terry Nau served as sports editor of the Pawtucket Times. When Nau retired in 2012, the seasoned newspaperman did not miss the daily grind of working full-time but soon learned that he missed writing. With free time on his hands, Nau began to write about a part of his life that he had buried for 40 years – his stint in Vietnam as an artilleryman in 1967-68. In his first four years of retirement, the former sports writer would self-publish three books about the Vietnam War.

In 2013, the retiree produced his first book, which dealt with being drafted out of college in 1966 and finding himself in Vietnam by September 1967 for a one-year tour with A Battery, 2/32 Field Artillery. This book, “Reluctant Soldier … Proud Veteran,” focused on his personal journey towards understanding the role Vietnam played in his life.

A Vietnam Veteran Remembers

For his second book, Nau, a Pennsylvania native, decided to write about the 15 students from his high school who died in Vietnam.

“In 2014, my high school’s 50th reunion committee asked me to try and calculate the number of Vietnam veterans in my Class of 1965,” he said, “and from that project came my second book, ‘We Walked Right Into It: Pennsbury High and the Vietnam War.’ ”

A Pawtucket resident since 1982, Nau said, “It was only natural that I would follow up with a book on Pawtucket and its 21 Vietnam War casualties.” His latest book evolved into an oral history, told mostly through the words of surviving family members, friends and fellow soldiers.

“The courage these families showed became the underlying theme of ‘They Heard the Bugle’s Call: Pawtucket and the Vietnam War,’ Nau stated. “It was hard for them to talk about their fallen soldier but after a while, it seemed like they warmed to the idea of remembering these soldiers nearly 50 years after they died,” he said.

Celebrating the 50th

Nau’s latest book has triggered a movement to honor Pawtucket’s “21 Heroes.”

“Pawtucket must remember these courageous soldiers, beginning with its first casualty, Marine Corps Lance Corporal Antonio Maciminio, Jr., who died on May 21, 1966, Nau said, noting that the 20-year-old infantry soldier left a pregnant wife who gave birth to their daughter Vicky in October 1966. Two other soldiers from Pawtucket – Jack Hulme and Michael Dalton – would also die before they ever saw their sons,” Nau noted.

On Saturday, May 21, from noon-2p.m. at the Pavilion in Slater Memorial Park, the City of Pawtucket will honor its 21 Vietnam War casualties. Antonio J. Pires, Director of Administration for Mayor Donald Grebien, will speak on behalf of the city. A reading of the City Council resolution that declares May 21 as “21 Heroes Day” in Pawtucket will follow.

According to Nau, at least 13 of the 21 families will participate in a Roll Call ceremony that will highlight this event. Each soldier’s name will be called out, in the order they fell, beginning with Lance Corporal Maciminio and continuing through Army 1st Lieutenant Michael Dalton, who was the last city resident to die in the war, on June 9, 1971.

The city also plans to honor its surviving Vietnam War veterans with a “Welcome Home” salute from the audience. That will be the final note in an emotional ceremony.

“Vietnam veterans often came home by themselves from the war zone,” Nau said. “The welcome they received came from their parents, families and friends. And that was all they wanted. Over the years, our military leaders realized what a mistake it had been to send soldiers home alone, instead of in units. To have the City of Pawtucket honor our Vietnam veterans in the 50th anniversary of the war means a lot of these graying veterans.”

The May 21 ceremony will begin at noon with 30 minutes of socializing. The ceremony will begin at 12:30 p.m. and should conclude by 1:30 p.m., followed by another 30 minutes of socializing.

“Three of the soldiers’ widows will attend, arriving from Florida, California and New Jersey,” Nau said. “Cathy (Maciminio) Dumont is bringing her daughter Vicky, who turns 50 in October. Vicky will speak her father’s name in our Roll Call of heroes. Debbie Dalton and Ellen Hulme will also participate in the Roll Call.”

For more information on this May 21 Slater Memorial event, email Nau at or check out the Facebook page, “Pawtucket’s Vietnam War Heroes.”


Rhode Island Lawmakers Can Say Never Again

Published in the Woonsocket Call on May 22, 2016

On October 15, 2015, anti-Semitic and racist leaflets were distributed on Providence’s East-side. Just months ago a Brown student discovered anti-Semitic messages on the walls directly across from his dorm room, where he had a mezuzah on his door. And the Joint Distribution Committee’s International Centre for Community Development released a survey that reported that “two in five Jewish leaders across Europe believe the rise in anti-Semitism represents a “major threat” to the future of their communities.”

Rhode Island lawmakers are pushing legislation to use education as a way to stamp out future holocausts and genocide.

On May 5, 2016, the House passed House Bill 7488A, which requires all middle and high school students to receive instruction in holocaust and genocide studies. Following introductory remarks from Rep. Katherine S. Kazarian (D-Dist. 63), the East Providence lawmaker’s measure passed the House unanimously with every member present seconding the motion for passage. Of note, the House approved the measure on Holocaust Remembrance Day.

The passage of House Bill 7488A follows the Rhode Island General Assembly successful efforts in 2011 to enact a law entitled “Genocide Education in Secondary Schools” that emphasized a need to make genocide curriculum materials available including, but not limited to, the Holocaust of WWII, and the genocides in Armenia, Cambodia, Iraq, Rwanda, and Darfur. If the measure is passed by the Senate and signed into law by Governor Gina Raimondo, it would officially empower the Department of Education to require school districts of the state to teach about these important events in history. The requirement would commence with the school year beginning in September 2017.

According to The Genocide Education Project, eleven states require the teaching of the Armenian genocide. Many of these states also require education on the Holocaust as well as other inhumane atrocities.

Adds, Marty Cooper, Community Relations Director of the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island, when passed the legislation will make Rhode Island the first New England state to require Holocaust and Genocide education in its schools.

“The study of this issue will provide much needed lessons on humanity and civilization. Hopefully, students will learn why it is important for them to not allow genocide [or another Holocaust] to take place and to call for an end of all intentional actions and systematic destruction, in whole or in part, of an ethnic, racial, religious or national group,” says Cooper.

“Although these are not pleasant topics to learn about in school, these events must be studied by our children in order to prevent further similar atrocities from happening in the future, says Kazarian, a fourth-generation Armenian-American. She said, “We should never allow the atrocities of the Armenian Genocide nor any form ethnic cleansing to be repeated.”

Rep. Kazarian noted that her great grandparents had survived the Armenian Genocide that took place between 1915 and 1923. According to the Armenian National Institute in Washington D.C., the genocide resulted in the death of 1.5 million Armenians. It is estimated that close to 2 million Armenians were living in the Ottoman Empire just prior to World War I when the Turkish government subjected its Armenian population to deportation, expropriation, abduction, torture, massacre and starvation.

“My family’s own history involving the Armenian Genocide has shown me that these events in history should never be forgotten and it is important that our children recognize and understand how such terrible events can occur in society, and more importantly, how to stop them from happening,” added Kazarian.

In the other chamber, Senator Gayle Goldin (D-District 03) of Providence has introduced a companion measure in the Rhode Island State Senate. The Senate Committee on Education heard testimony on March 30th and has held the bill for further study.

“As we look across the globe at atrocities committed in Syria and many other regions, and closer to home, where anti-Semitic graffiti appeared at Brown University as recently as March, it is clear how important it is to ensure students can place these actions into a historical context,” says Goldin. “We want to ensure that themes about genocide and the Holocaust are taught in more than an ad hoc manner, but included as part of a comprehensive curriculum. These important historical lessons should be woven into studies in ways that ensure students are gaining the appropriate perspective so that we learn from the past and never again stand idle witness to genocide or the hate and fear that lead to it,” she says.

Goldin continued, “When I was approached by the coalition to introduce this bill, it resonated with me personally. I’m named after my paternal great aunt and uncle, who perished in the Holocaust, along with the majority of my ancestors who died as a result of the pogroms leading up to and during the Holocaust. Those atrocities shaped my family’s identity. As a child, I was taught never to forget. This legislation ensures that children will continue to learn about impact of the Holocaust and genocides in general on our society.”

The lessons of the Holocaust are more relevant than ever before. Today, we see a rise in antisemitism worldwide, including in the lands where the Holocaust happened. Genocide continues to occur even in the wake of the promise of ‘Never Again.'” Bringing this history’s lessons to students is critical as their generation will be tomorrow’s leaders in confronting these challenges,” says Andy Hollinger, Director, communications, of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Hollinger adds, “The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum offers many free, online resources to educators seeking to bring Holocaust education to their students. ( We also offer on-site training programs for educators and encourage Rhode Island educators to utilize these resources.”

As June approaches, Goldin’s companion measure is held for further study, this sometimes being legislative code for “bill will not see the light of day for a vote.” With the increasing incidents of anti-Semitic incidents and hate crimes in Rhode Island, throughout the nation and the world, Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed must send a strong signal to all– “Rhode Island says Never Again.” Hatred can proactively be stamped out by education. That’s exactly the intent of Kazarian and Goldin’s legislation.

Prime organizations managing the research and drafting of the legislation the Armenian community, Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence, the Rhode Island Council of Churches, the Community Relations Council of the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island and the Sandra Bornstein Holocaust Education Center.

Survey: Many Put Retirement on Hold

Published in Woonsocket Call on May 15, 2016

The Associated Press (AP)-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, funded by The Alfred Sloan Foundation, released a study this month that finds that departing the workforce at the traditional retirement age of 65 is no longer a reality for most older Americans. This new study extends the research of an earlier 2013 retirement study to look at efforts made by older workers to improve career skills and their plans to adjust the parameters of work in later stages of their work life. It also takes a look at a variety of implications of the trend of working longer along with the motivations for doing so.

The 10 page report, released on May 10, 2016, finds that there are large numbers of older Americans who are currently, or who expect to be, working longer. However, researchers caution that this does not necessarily mean that older workers are continuing with the same employment circumstances indefinitely. Many are either reducing their hours to part-time status or are planning to switch to a new employer or even a new field. (The AP-NORC study confirms the findings of an AARP retirement study reported in my September 14, column, entitled “Still Getting the Job Done” that noted “new retirement activity.”)

The Graying of America’s Work Force

The AP-NORC survey comes at a time when the size of the nation’s older population is larger than it has ever been and projected to keep growing, say the researchers. Between 2003 and 2013, the number of Americans age 65 and older rose from 35.9 million to 44.7 million. In the next quarter century, this number is expected to rise to 82.3 million. The percentage of the overall population that falls within this group will rise from 14.1 percent in 2013 to 21.7 percent in 2040, notes the study.

“The circumstances and future plans of older Americans must be well understood by decision-makers,” said Trevor Tompson, director of The AP-NORC Center. “Not only are older Americans going to work longer, but 4 in 10 respondents are planning to change career fields in the future. These results point to significant changes in the American workforce with impacts likely felt by workers and employers.”

No Plans for Retirement

Here is a sampling of key findings reported in The AP-NORC’s “Working Longer” study:

According to the survey, a quarter of older workers say they plan to never retire, with this response being more common among lower-income workers than higher-income workers. Specifically, 33 percent of those earning less than $50,000 a year saying they will never retire, compared with 20 percent of those who earn $100,000 or more.

The findings also indicate that more than half of older workers plan to be employed past the traditional retirement age of 65 or already have worked past this age. Additionally, six in 10 older workers age 50 to 64 plan to work past the age of 65. Nearly half of those who are 65 and older say they already work or plan to work during this later stage of life, notes the study.

The study reveals that members of the workforce who are age 65 and older are not limiting themselves to occasional work–this group reports an average of 31 hours per week in the workplace.

Additionally, more than 4 in 10 Americans age 50 and older have spent at least 20 years working for the same employer at some point in their careers. These workers are more excited and less anxious about retirement than those without such long histories with a single employer, says the study..

The findings also show that a majority of the older Americans who are planning to remain in or rejoin the workforce are planning to switch either professional fields or employers in the future. Those who are age 65 and older are especially likely to plan a change. In addition, a sizeable minority of older workers are taking steps to keep their skill sets fresh by pursuing job training or additional education.

Finally, a quarter of adults age 50 and older have looked for a job in the past five years. Many of them are encountering difficulties in the job market, with a third reporting that it has been so difficult that they’ve given up looking at some point during their search.

Fear of Outliving Retirement Savings

“One could say that the [The AP-NORC] survey simply leads us back to the same ‘old’ story,” said AARP Rhode Island State Director Kathleen Connell. “But what is ‘old’ and what are we going to do about it? The survey provides more data to underscore the need for policy changes as well as a refocusing on employment and retirement. In a single generation, the world has changed. On the upside, the numbers reflect people in better health working longer, and many of those folks continue to be fulfilled in their jobs. But we all know that for most people this trend stems from the fear of outliving savings, often compounded by the inability to save substantially for retirement.

“Worries about Social Security are in the mix, also, as people worry that benefits someday may not cover the cost of housing, food and healthcare. The thought of any future reduction in Social Security benefits is daunting. That’s why AARP continues to ask presidential candidates to ‘Take a Stand,” by providing specific plans to address necessary changes in the program. As we have been saying, doing nothing is not an option.

“One of the encouraging trends revealed in the survey is that many workers over 65 say they are certain that they will change jobs or careers before they retire. It says to me that the message is kicking in that reaching what we once accepted as ‘retirement age’ no longer holds people back.”

A total of 1,075 interviews were conducted for this AP-NORC survey with adults age 50 and older representing the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Interviews were conducted in English and Spanish. The combined response rate is 14.2 percent. The overall margin of sampling error is +/- 3.9 percentage points at the 95 percent confidence level, including the design effect. The margin of sampling error may be higher for subgroups.

‘The Age of Disruption Tour’ Comes to Cranston

Published in Woonsocket Call on May 8, 2016
By Herb Weiss

Internationally- acclaimed aging expert Dr. Bill Thomas and musical guest Nate Silas Richardson come to the Ocean State to offer an entertaining and highly disruptive exploration of aging at the Park Theatre, 848 Park Ave., Cranston, RI 02910 —from 2:30 to 4:30 PM and 7:00 to 8:30 PM on Thursday May 19, 2016, as part of The Age of Disruption Tour.

Dr. Thomas says that his message is quite simple – transitioning into later life should not be spent in “frenzied disharmony.” To play “life’s most dangerous game” successfully “we need to reimagine and create clear and satisfying purpose to how we spend the rest of our lives,” he adds.

The Beginning

Over 25 years ago, Thomas, a 31-year-old physician who was less than two years out of family residency, took a job as medical director of a nursing facility with 80 severely disabled residents. Ultimately the Harvard-trained physician would put together a program in the facility in Upper New York that advocated a shifting away from the institutional model of care to one that is person-directed. .

Thomas recalled, “The place was depressing, with old people parked in wheelchairs like frogs on a log, bored with nothing to do, just waiting for death to finally reach them. It was horrible.”

So the young physician made unthinkable changes to care plans. He persuaded the facility and staff to get two dogs, four cats, several hens and rabbits, and 100 parakeets, along with hundreds of plants, a vegetable and flower garden, and a day-care site for staffers’ kids. At the time, there were laws prohibiting animals in nursing homes. They went ahead anyway.

Thomas’s unorthodox methods had astounding results. Dr. Atal Gawande detailed the impact in his 2014 best-selling book Being Mortal. The residents started caring for the plants and animals, and this restored their spirits and their interest in doing things. Many started taking better care of themselves, venturing out of their rooms and eating and interacting with people again. Prescription drug use was reduced 50 percent, particularly for drugs utilized to reduce anxiety and agitation. Medication costs plummeted, and so did the death rate.

Meanwhile, New York and other states changed the law to allow animals in old age homes and facilities. At some facilities, trucks were hired to take away the accumulations of wheelchairs that were no longer being used.

In 1991, Thomas and his wife Judith Meyers-Thomas co-founded a non-profit called The Eden Alternative to share what they had learned in New York. Today, The Eden Alternatives’ primary mission has expanded to provide education and training to care providers working in home care, community-based care like adult day programs, meals on wheels, senior centers, and, retirement communities, assisted living and nursing homes. “More than 30,000 people worldwide have participated in Eden education including all 50 states and 13 countries. There are currently more than 200 organizations who are members of the Eden Alternative registry,” he says, noting that 13 countries have organizations active in the Eden Alternative movement.

“The idea that care is about helping someone to grow – not just treating illness or injury — touches people in a fundamental way,” Thomas says. Traditional approaches to care tend to focus solely on the human body, while The Eden Alternative philosophy seeks to improve well-being for the whole person. This includes having a sense of purpose and a voice and choice regarding our own care. In 1991,

Since 1991, Thomas’ paradigm shift in care philosophy, to reduce loneliness, helplessness and boredom, has truly become an international movement

On the Road

Thomas formally stepped down as President of The Eden Alternative board in 2014 but is still deeply connected to the movement, notes Kavan Peterson, director of Thomas’ latest project, the 2016 Age of Disruption Tour. For instance, Thomas keynoted the 8th Eden International Conference on May 2 in Little Rock, Arkansas, he says.

The Age of Disruption Tour features Thomas’ signature “non-fiction theater” performance called “Aging: Life’s Most Dangerous Game.” Dr. Thomas has performed in 65 cities in 28 states since 2014, says Peterson. “We’ve had just over 20,000 tickets sold,” he says, noting that the 2016 tour will go to 35 cities, including five stops in Canada and stopovers in the United Kingdom next December.

The tour came about when he heard AARP CEO JoAnn Jenkins in 2014 declare her intentions to launch a “disrupt aging” movement aimed at inspiring people to embrace their age and open their eyes to the possibilities and opportunities that come with aging, notes Thomas. “I had recently been dabbling in harnessing the power of the arts — theater, music, live performance — as a tool for social change. I launched the Age of Disruption Tour with the support of AARP to champion the concept of disrupting aging at the local grassroots level. The movement has grown and expanded from there,” he says.

The 2016 tour expanded to include an afternoon educational workshop called “Disrupt Dementia.”

The purpose of the workshop is to directly challenge the tragedy narrative people associate with Alzheimer’s disease and provide an educational experience that opens the audience’s eyes to the possibility of living well with memory loss, says Peterson. You will find the workshop highly theatrical as well– there is a film, a live music concert, and even the workshop section is designed to reach people in an emotional level. “This is an important element to the show to provide an immersive experience for the attendees to open their hearts in order to open their minds to new ways of thinking about aging, he adds.”

Peterson says the Age of Disruption Tour, whose local tour stop is sponsored by PACE and AARP, has had a positive impact on the audience. One attendee said, “It was elegant, warm, and exquisitely-produced. Every single detail. The love was palpable.” Another noted: “Dr. Thomas’ tour not only created a platform to have these inspired conversations, but brought together music, theatre, and play to remind [us] that living life to the fullest is an ageless concept.”

The tour has also had a lasting impact on communities, says Peterson. “In Portland Oregon, the city’s Age Friendly initiative organized a year-long public outreach campaign called “What are Old People For” based on Dr. Thomas’ book of the same name. In other cities the events have helped boost local coalitions ranging from supporting Age Friendly City movements, the Village to Village Network, and, the Eden Alternative movements, book clubs and consciousness raising groups, he notes.

A Good Fit for AARP Rhode Island

“AARP enjoys working with Bill Thomas, for many reasons. Chief among them is his innovative and entertaining approach to getting people to think differently about age and aging,” observed AARP Rhode Island State Director Kathleen Connell. “Age is something that happens to all of us. But Bill always finds new ways to inspire people to look at age through a different, more positive and affirmative lens. Society is stubbornly negative about aging, equating it with decline. It’s a notion so pervasive that people have come to believe it. Turning that around is what the tour is all about and it’s a good fit with that AARP is doing to disrupt aging,” Connell says.

“An expression that is getting traction is ‘own your age,” Connell added. “Essentially, it means that people should forget about assumptions and prejudices assigned to age. Turning 50 does not make you old. Turning 60 does not mean you’ve peaked. Turning 70 doesn’t make you anything. Owning your age is about you and the life you have chosen to live – not what people think of when they think of a number, she notes.

Ticket Information: $15 per show $30 for both

GAO Report Reveals Social Security Benefits Gap between Rich, Poor

Published in Woonsocket Call on May 1, 2016

We intuitively know that there is a growing income gap between America’s rich and poor. We heard it for months during the presidential democratic debates. But a newly released GAO report documents this charge, the disparities and their impact on Social Security Benefits.

Growing disparities in life expectancy between America’s rich and poor is eroding the progressive nature of Social Security. A new Government Accountability Office (GAO) report, “Shorter Life Expectancy Reduces Projected Lifetime Benefits for Lower Income,” requested by Senator Bernie Sanders, shows that low-income American men (making about $20,000 a year) will lose 11 percent to 14 percent of their lifetime Social Security benefits while high-income men (making $80,000 annually) will see a 16 percent to 18 percent benefit boost due to this growing gap.

Life Expectancy Impacts SSA Benefits

The GAO study, released on April 4, 2016, found that raising the Social Security retirement age would result in even fewer benefits for lower-income groups. Lower-income men are living between 4 and 13 fewer years than higher-income men, and lower-income women are living between 2 and 14 fewer years than higher-income women.

“Poverty should not be a death sentence,” said Sanders, who serves as ranking member on the Primary Health and Retirement Security Subcommittee. “When over half of older workers have no retirement savings, we need to expand, not cut, Social Security so that every American can retire with the benefits they’ve earned and the dignity they deserve,” he says.

According to 64 page GAO report, the wealthiest Americans are not only living longer and collecting more in Social Security benefits, they are also contributing less of their income toward Social Security. Almost all of the income gains over the past three decades have gone to those earning above the $118,500 earnings cap and have therefore been exempt from Social Security taxes, costing the Social Security Trust Fund over $1.1 trillion, says the report.

“Today, the wealthiest Americans contribute less to Social Security than at any other time in recent history. We must reject calls to raise the retirement age and instead strengthen Social Security by ensuring millionaires and billionaires pay their fair share,” Sanders said.

Max Richtman, President and CEO of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare (NCPSSM), says that the GAO report is especially important when you consider the push in Congress to raise Social Security’s retirement age to reduce benefits. “Forcing average Americans to delay retirement until 70, as suggested by some in Washington, would mean even smaller benefits for lower-income groups,” he says.

Richtman notes that NCPSSM has long opposed increasing the Social Security retirement age, stating that it is “nothing but a cruel cut in benefits” The GAO report shows exactly how cruel it would be, he says.

Instead of cutting Social Security, Richtman calls on Congress to boost benefits so that retirement income program can continue to fulfill its promise providing an adequate base of income for America’s seniors.

Lawmakers Push to Protect Social Security

Sanders, a presidential Democratic candidate, has introduced legislation that would ensure that Social Security would be able to pay every benefit owed to every eligible American for the next 58 years. His plan would increase benefits by more than $1,300 a year for seniors with less than $16,000 in annual income. This includes boosting yearly cost-of-living adjustments by making the consumer price index better reflect seniors’ rising costs for health care and prescription medicine.

To shore up the retirement program’s trust fund, the Senator would lift the cap on taxable income so everyone who makes more than $250,000 a year would pay the same percentage of their income into Social Security as middle-class working families.

“This report reinforces the importance of strengthening Social Security and preserving the guarantee of Medicare, especially for working and middle class Rhode Islanders,” said Congressman Cicilline (D-RI), who is a co-sponsor of the Protecting and Preserving Social Security Act. “After a lifetime of hard work, Rhode Islanders should be able to retire with economic security and peace of mind, he says, pledging to continue his efforts to support “commonsense” legislation that strengthen Social Security benefits.

The GAO study is a warning that proposals to raise the retirement age “would fall hardest on those who can least afford it,” says Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI). As a founding member of the Defending Social Security Caucus, Whitehouse plans to explore ways to strengthen the Social Security, “the bedrock of American retirement security.”

GAO made no recommendations in this report. However, in comments the Social Security Administration (SSA) agreed with GAO’s finding that it is important to understand how the life expectancy in different income groups may affect retirement income. The federal agency sees financial literacy as a key factor in preparing for a “secured retirement.”

According to a SSA official, “Social Security offers one of the best tools for the public to plan for their retirement and educate themselves about their benefits – a my Social Security account which is a secure, personalized online account that can be created at With a my Social Security account, people can check their Social Security Statement to learn about future Social Security benefits, verify annual earnings, and plan for their financial future. More than 23 million people have already created secure, convenient accounts,” he says.

In recent years Congress has looked for ways to keep the Social Security program afloat by adjusting Social Security tax contributions, increasing retirement age, and reducing benefit amounts. Now with the release of the new report findings, the message is clear. Congress must not tinker with Social Security until it understands the unanticipated impact on those receiving the benefit checks, especially on the lower-income retirees.

For more information, contact Charles Jeszeck at (202) 512-7215 or