Conference on Aging Planned for Summer 2015

Published in Pawtucket Times, December 5, 2015

It seems that aging advocates will have many celebrations to attend throughout 2015. This year is the 50th anniversary of Medicare, Medicaid, and the Older Americans Act, as well as the 80th anniversary of Social Security. Last July, the White House announced the scheduling this summer of the White House Conference on Aging (WHCoA). This once-in-a-decade is an opportunity to recognize the importance of these key federal programs as well as to look ahead to the issues that will help shape the quality of life for older Americans for the next decade.

With Nora Super named as the Conference’s new Executive Director in July combined with its website up and running in October, planning for the event is gearing up.

A Look Back

The first White House Conference on Aging (WHCoA) was held in 1961, with following conferences in 1971, 1981, 1995, and 2005. Over the past 40 years, professionals in the aging network have viewed these decennial conferences to be catalysts for development of aging policy. The conferences generated ideas and ultimately political momentum to establish or make significant improvements to many of the nation’s domestic programs, including Medicare, Medicaid, the Older Americans Acts and even to Social Security.

The four-day 2005 WHCoA was geared to provide the nation’s73 million baby boomers plan for their decades in retirement. That year, Pre-WHOCoA Forums (listening, solutions and mini conferences) were held around the country, to develop proposed solutions to the challenges of aging and the Main Conference itself, ultimately resulted in 73 resolutions with 50 of them being presented to the president and Congress.

Ten years ago, Governors of all 50 States, Puerto Rico, the District of Columbia and the Territories, Members of the 109th Congress, the National Congress of American Indians and the Policy Committee, selected 1,200 bipartisan delegates. At press time, delegate selection details have not been announced. But, like previous Conferences, I expect that incoming Governor, Gina Raimondo, to have some slots to appoint. Stay tuned.

In the past, processes for the five conferences were created by federal statute with the form and structure directed by Congressional lawmakers through legislation authorizing the Older Americans Act. To date, a deeply divided Congress has not reauthorized this program, and the pending bill does not include a statutory requirement or framework for the 2015 conference.

WHCoA organizers say that without a Congressionally defined framework, the White House begins to plans, still strongly committed to hosting a White House Conference on Aging in 2015. The American public will be engaged and involved in developing the conference, they say, by utilizing technology, by using web tools and social media, can encourage the nation’s Baby Boomers and seniors to participate.
Super Takes the Reins

Nora Super, the executive director of the upcoming WHCoA, says on the event’s website, “the coming months will be a time for us to engage in a dialogue and build a shared vision on how to continue to maximize the contributions of Americans as we age, and how to advance priorities such as healthy aging, a secure retirement, accessing the services and supports older Americans need to remain in their communities, and protecting older Americans from financial exploitation, abuse, and neglect.”

Super, who has over 20 years working in the federal government, and a lobbyist for AARP and represented Kaiser Permanente’s eight regional Permanente Medical Groups, believes, “The White House Conference on Aging represents an important step in working to ensure that Americans throughout the lifespan have the opportunity to learn and develop skills, engage in productive work, make choices about their daily lives, and participate fully in community life.”

According to Super, “the Conference is designed to assist the public and private sectors to be responsive to the needs of a diverse aging population and to promote the dignity and independence of and expand opportunities for current and future generations of older persons and their families.”
Listening session, beginning last July that will continue up to and during the Conference, have produced some common themes, including: retirement security; healthy aging; long-term services and supports to help older adults remain in their communities; and preventing financial exploitation, abuse, and neglect of older adults.

A Call for Participation

Sign up to receive regular updates and emails to stay informed. You will learn more about the planned WHCoA listening sessions, regional forums, webinars and opportunities for public engagement. Provide your thoughts as to what’s most important to you and your ideas for actions that can help to improve the lives of older Americans.

Don’t sit on the sidelines. Bring your comments to the table, especially share personal stories and life experiences about your aging, either from the frame of reference as an older adult or caregiver. Give your thoughts about the different federal programs that have enhanced the quality of your life or those family members, friends, and neighbors around you.

Last October, the WHCoA website, http://www.WhiteHouseConferenceOnAging.gov, was launched as a way to engage the public about aging issues. It provides regular updates on Conference activities, more important it serves as a way to easily provide your comments and input.

This columnist, writing for McKnight’s LTC News, one of the oldest trade publications covering the long-term care sector, covered the 1995 WHCoA for the prestigious publication. As a journalist it was an exciting assignment, to report on a national Conference that brought together aging advocates, long-term care providers, academicians, and researchers. This synergy ultimately would create formal resolutions to be shared with President William Clinton and Congress as to how to direct the nation’s resources and federal programs to better serve older Americans.

Summer 2015 kicks off the WHCoA. Hopefully, Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo, the state’s Division of Elderly Affairs and RI AARP will be in the forefront to gather comments from Rhode Island’s Aging Baby Boomers and Seniors about aging issues and problems that impact them. Rhode Islanders must be at the table and have a voice at the nation’s most important aging conference.

Herb Weiss, LRI ’12, is a Pawtucket-based writer covering aging, health care and medical issues. He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.

 

Documentary Takes a Look at Speed Dating for Seniors

Published in Pawtucket Times, August 9, 2014

Three years ago, a personal story would lead filmmaker Steven Loring to zero in on a topic for his MFA thesis film while studying at the Social Documentary Film Program in NYC’s School of Visual Arts. His thesis ultimately grew into a 78-minute documentary, “The Age of Love,” which follows the adventures of 30 seniors who sign up for a speed dating event exclusively for 70- to 90-year-olds. The film premieres at the Rhode Island International Film Festival, Sunday, August 10, at 12:15 p.m. at the Paff Theatre at URI, 80 Washington Street, Providence. And there’s a special offer for anyone who comes to the box office with a date: When you buy one ticket, your date gets in FREE! Any date! Any age!

The story took shape after the passing away of Loring’s father in 2008 left his still-vibrant mother alone after being married to her soul mate for nearly half a century. At that same time, his 80-year old uncle, who’d never even dated, to Loring’s amazement suddenly fell madly in love with an 80-year-old woman, both acting like love-struck teenagers.

“It was like they were in high school again,” Loring says, noting that the couple walked around holding hands and that he even found their bedroom door shut when he visited.

These events pushed the Brooklyn-based filmmaker to take a look at relationships in one’s later years. His research efforts revealed that the nation’s media had neglected issues involving seniors’ emotional and intimate needs. On the internet, he found that speed dating for seniors was a newly emerging trend which had occurred in a few communities in Florida and Colorado. Ultimately, a speed dating event in Rochester, New York would give him the perfect place to explore and document and come away with new insights into the issue.

Loring’s efforts to reconcile two dynamically opposite life experiences, losing a long-term intimate relationship and suddenly finding one at an advanced age, led the graduate student to finally formulate this thesis question, “Do decades of life and loss constrict our hearts, or might time develop them in unexpected ways,” That’s the question the 51-year-old filmmaker attempts to answer in his film project.

Speed Dating for Seniors

Loring’s documentary, a winner of the 2013 Paley Center DocFest Pitch Competition and recently awarded a prestigious Fledgling Fund social engagement grant, follows the amusing and emotional adventures of the seniors who signed up for the Rochester speed dating event, which was organized by a ‘healthy aging’ coalition to bring new social opportunities to the older community. The trendy matchmaking process allowed these individuals to meet for a brief five minutes. When the time was up the organizer sounded a bell, signaling participants to move on to the next table. Each kept a tally of those they would like to contact later. If both parties were interested in each other, a follow up date would occur.

According to Loring, as a result of the heavy promotion of this unique event, combined with the intense local media buzz, “dozens of area seniors called to register, all willing to put themselves out there, to take stock of their aging bodies and still-hopeful hearts.”

“The film takes viewers where no documentary has gone before – directly into the lives of older singles who still yearn to be seen and understood, who still desire another’s touch, who seek a new chance of love,” says Loring. Unlike other recent documentaries exploring issues of aging, the film maker saw an “opportunity to break social and generational barriers by looking at the older participants not in terms of singular talents or specific communities, but through shared, human desires.”

For three months, Loring filmed without a crew. He was able to easily develop personal relationships with the senior speed daters “allowing candid stories to emerge by following their everyday routines,” he says.
Looking to Find That Perfect Match

Loring notes that some participants came seeking simple companionship, while others came looking for that special mate. Among the speed daters who appear in the film: An 81-year-old bodybuilding champ, divorced since his fifties, who still believes new love is possible; a skydiving widow who dulls her loss by pursuing younger men; a grandmother and online-dating addict searching the web for Mr. Right; a romantic 79-year-old who discards his portable oxygen for a sunset tango on the beach, a 1940s movie fanatic who escaped an abusive marriage, yet still seeks her ‘Fred and Ginger’ romance.

Janice Ledtke, 78, a resident of Webster, New York, a suburb of Rochester, remembers making the decision to participate in speed dating. After 38 years of being single following her divorce in 1976, she jumped at the chance to meet new people. “What did I have to lose,” says Ledtike, a former property management employee, who met dates over the years at singles groups or through being fixed up by friends.

“You never know who you just might meet,” remembers Ledtike, noting when her friends found out about her participation in the speed dating event and documentary, “they thought I was crazy, but it’s just another one of my adventures.”

Ledtke says she met a variety of personalities at the speed dating event. But her follow up dates with a film maker, a retired professor and an owner of a small insurance company went nowhere. “I was not necessarily looking to find the love of my life, but if it happened, it happened,” she adds, stressing that it was not the end of the world because she came away with a number of new friends.

Linda Sorrendino, 72, had many long-term relationships since her 1973 divorce. “I have many diamonds to prove this,” quips the resident of Victor, New York. Over the years, like Ledtke, she would meet people by attending singles groups or through friends.

Learning from a friend about the speed dating event, Sorrendino, a retired office clerk, immediately signed up. “You just never know. As to landing a relationship, “you just go with the flow,” she remarks.

As Sorrendino reflects on her speed dating experience and her late life relationships, she notes, “I don’t want to be with a decrepit old man, but I also don’t want to be with somebody a lot younger who looks better that I do and feels like he’s with an old lady.”

A Final Thought…

“The film’s message is so positive and encouraging,” said AARP Rhode Island State Director Kathleen Connell. “Watching these folks surely will make it easier for others to re-enter the dating scene. At the same time, there is a subtext that is very important: No one featured in the documentary seems desperate. Each has found a way to move on from divorce or loss of a spouse or partner. Will they find their storybook ending? I think the film makes it clear that there are no promises. But there’s a strong message that giving love another chance is not so intimidating – especially if you find some an organized group that puts you among people of similar age and circumstance.”

The documentary also will reveal to its broader audience that the desire for companionship and intimacy does not evaporate at some advanced specific age,” Connell added. “These feelings are not always easy for people to discuss with their children or grandchildren. Its great people get to see these folks take part in the speed-dating experience because in the accompanying interviews they reveal hopes and fears many hold inside. But I love the takeaway: ‘If something happens, that’s great. If not, I’ll still be okay.’”

Loring plans to work with AARP and other ‘healthy aging’ organizations across the country to bring older adults together in 25 cities next year at senior speed dating events. For more information go to theAgeofLoveMovie.com or email steven@theAgeofLoveMovie.com

Herb Weiss, LRI ’12, is a Pawtucket writer covering aging, health care and medical issues. He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.