Sunday, April 1, 2007

Conference on Aging, Chicago, March 2007

(photo: josh on Flickr)
Pam and I recently presented at the annual international Joint Conference on Aging, hosted by the ASA (American Society for Aging) and the NCOA (National Council on Aging) in Chicago. There are thousands of participants and hundreds of topics every year. This year our topic was chosen, Think Unlimited: The Transformation of Assistive Products and Services. We spoke about our experiences as retailers on the hunt for unique, functional AND design-conscious products for health, comfort and independence. Owning Capabilities puts us in touch daily with manufacturers and suppliers of all types. We work to bring what we learn from customers and their needs to our partners on the supply side. Sometimes this is easier said than done. Stay tuned for more thoughts on this dynamic in the future.

For today, some reflections on the conference. The big themes this year were on the emergence of Baby Boomers into their 60s. There are 8000 turning 60 every day. New paradigms about the aging process are also emerging from nearly every corner. There were dozens of sessions and products on the brain and how to stay fit mentally. General health also predominated many of the presentations and discussions, including a big focus on balancing the health of the caregiver and the individual getting the care. The impact of the changes as Boomers age is being traced by businesses of every sort, including those who build retirement communities, assisted living residences and skilled nursing facilities. A number of presenters highlighted these issues and offered suggestions for change.

(photo: mknowles on Flickr)
We gathered a very interesting crowd for our presentation. Care providers from all walks of life, including one, Kim, who was thrust into the role when her father became ill suddenly and needed constant care, attended our session. Kim’s mother, who was supposed to have been the caregiver, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at the same time. Kim’s life turned upside down as she moved her family in with both parents. Her father-in-law also suffered life threatening injuries from a fall shortly after the big decisions were made to live together. Absent a caregiver, he, too, joined the clan. Kim had her work cut out for her. Trying to find information and practical tools became her passion. Making it up as she went along led her to founding her own business as a life transition coach. She is now also an inventor with patents pending on a number of practical products that she could just never find. We spent quite a bit of time with Kim over the course of the conference, exchanging ideas and learning more about her product ideas. We will, of course, keep you up to date on these emerging ideas as more progress is made. We might even ask you to give us feedback on a prototype when she sends us one. We are struck always by the truth of that great Plato-ism, “Necessity is the Mother of Invention.”

(photo: rcktmanil on Flickr)We reflected, too, on the word “aging” while we were there and people’s reaction to it. There is heightened sensitivity to words these days. If you have done any reading about Baby Boomers, for example, (or are one) you will know that this generation has adverse reactions to words that suggest aging, like the word “aging” itself. “Senior” does also not test well in opinion polls and surveys. In fact, there is no generation alive today that gives favorable responses to ideas or concepts that use the word “senior” or “aging.” This is quite different, of course, from earlier years when "senior" first became an acceptable substitute for speaking about those over the age of 65. Even the word “retirement” is becoming difficult for purveyors of financial products, especially. Consider the new ads featuring Dennis Hopper, who reads the definition of “retire” from Webster’s (withdraw or retreat, it says). He flings the dictionary. “That’s not you!” Even AARP decided to drop the words for the acronym several years ago since it referred to “retired persons.” You won’t find a reference to the acronym anywhere now with AARP, just the initials. You might also have noticed how they have changed their publications, too, introducing a wider range of features and people of significant age ranges. This focus on language is not just idle worry by a small group. At the conference we spoke with a banker, for example, whose well-known large bank is struggling to find new appealing words for products that help Boomers plan for retirement. “What is retirement now?” he asked. It’s more of a prolonged state, or one that is deferred while the so-called retiree does other things, like start a new business. As we live longer, work longer and continue to change what have been norms and expectations, we need new language to talk about it. Post your thoughts in our Comments about retirement…and what kinds of words you would suggest for all those marketers who are scratching their heads about what to call us now!

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