On Thursday evening, March 28th, four illustrious “Aging Industry” leaders presented a panel discussion on “The Art of Aging” to the toughest audience imaginable—residents of Plymouth Harbor.  One might assume that if anyone knows something about the “art” of aging with dignity, courage and panache, you would find them here.

Undaunted, Dr. Nancy Schlossberg, a nationally renowned scholar and author of numerous books on aging and retirement, and three panelists shared their well-considered thoughts with each other and the audience gathered before them.

The opening question, “It has been said that demographics are destiny.  How does that apply to Sarasota?” was fielded first by Tom Esselman, the Executive Director of Sarasota’s Institute for the Ages.

Art of Aging Industry Experts at Plymouth Harbor

Harry Hobson, Nancy Schlossberg, Tom Esselman & John Overton

Pointing to the demographic reality that gives Sarasota County the distinction of having the oldest average population of any large county in the U.S., Tom declared, “Our destiny is leadership.  As the world wonders what it will face in the future with the dramatic growth of an aging population, we are experiencing that future now.  Our destiny is to embrace new ideas and provide lessons of learning and leadership.”

John Overton, CEO of The Pines of Sarasota, chose to reflect on the demographics of dementia that he sees as a leader of a skilled nursing residence.  “Our challenge is to demonstrate the leadership learning about the disease, examining the lessons of the last 20 years and seeking innovative ways of providing care in the home for this growing population.”

“Appreciating the Mecca of older adults that we are,” reflected our own Harry Hobson, “we are truly a microcosm of the future of our country.  We will be challenged for some time with dementia, and we are called to emphasize preventative health care and wellness.”

When asked, “What do you see as the hot button issues around aging?”  John Overton pointed quickly to a difficult dilemma.  There is the need to care for more people who are acutely ill and have outlived their income, while at the same time funding, such as Medicare and Medicaid, is increasingly restricted.  His was a call for more access to care.

Harry noted the shift of language from “care for the rest of life” to “aging in place” saying that the challenge is having access to the new technologies that enhance our lives as we age.  “The question is ‘How will we bring affordable technology to a caring bedside manner?’.  It’s a matter of aging in the ‘right’ place,” he added.

“Business and industry are too often seen as the bad guys,” said Tom Esselman, who wants to change that dialog around aging to encourage businesses to tap into the value of older adults to drive innovation.  This is an area of great promise and opportunity.

The panel went on to discuss their observations of age bias, the marginalization of older adults and whether or not we all get happier with age.  It was clear that bias and marginalization exist, but are muted in the vibrant senior-centric community of Sarasota.  Local philanthropies benefit from senior volunteers and there is great intergenerational value in the active involvement of retirees on many levels.  The Institute of the Ages is mobilizing older adults for meaningful involvement with research and product testing to support businesses developing new technologies.

Nancy Schlossberg pointed out that the Stanford Longevity Institute, AARP and Pew Research all have data showing that happiness increases as you age in the seventies and eighties.  Is it true?  For the most part, yes, they all agreed.  John Overton mused that many centenarians he knows are very happy.

“The human spirit is amazing in its capacity to find silver linings,” Tom quoted Hugh Downs.

Harry added, “There are many moving parts to aging and being happy.  The two most important factors are physical health and financial health.  I’ve seen that staying connected is a huge factor.”

Many in the audience agreed that optimism and actively reaching out to others were of great importance to them.  Some questioned age bias in employment and expressed some frustration with keeping up with the constant changing technologies around us.  There was obviously energy to continue these conversations for some time into the future, be we can focus on the panelists’ concluding statements about aging.

Harry Hobson — “Embrace it.  Let go of frustration.  Welcome new ways.”

 Tom Esselman — Quoting the title of a favorite song by artist Jesus Jones, “Right Here, Right Now, There’s No Place I’d Rather Be.”  Or simply, “There’s no better place than Sarasota.”

 John Overton — “Life is not a dress rehearsal.  Experience it now.  Live it now.”

And one last word from Art Linkletter, “Things turn out best for people who make the best of the ways things turn out.”

The “Art of Aging” panel discussion was also the featured program at the Tiger Bay Luncheon on Monday, April 11 at Michael’s on East.