a publication of the sexuality and aging consortium at widener university

Consortium Members Shine at ASA Conference

 Report From Chicago

Consortium Members Shine At ASA Conference

By Terri Clark

I attended my first American Society on Aging (ASA) conference in Chicago, this March to learn from experts and to network with other aging professionals across disciplines.

The conference attracted me as both a Consortium member and co-chair of the LGBT Elder Initiative <link to website>. In these roles, I am committed to learning about the changing landscape of our aging population and to identifying resources and developing programs and services that are culturally competent, inclusive of the diversity of our aging communities, and that promote sexuality as a pleasurable, integral part of aging.  When the baby boomers started to turn 65 in 2011, 10,000 people began to turn 65 every day—and will continue to do so for the next for 20 years. By 2030, almost one out of every five Americans—some 72 million people—will be 65 years or older. Their longer lifespans are creating a need for a well trained, versatile, diverse, culturally competent workforce with an increased and improved understanding about sexuality and aging – the ASA conference provided opportunities for both.

Myriad Options Mean Tough Choices        

There were hundreds of workshops to choose from each day.  With so many sessions covering issues from business and aging to life-long learning programs to care giving and policy/advocacy, everyone could find something of interest to them.  At times it was tough to choose. There were over 35 sessions on LGBT, sexuality, and HIV alone! Fellow Consortium members and Consortium Advisory Board members covered senior sexuality in the following workshops:

·      “The Sexual Revolution Comes to Long Term Care: Implications for Staff Training and Policy,” led by Gayle Doll, addressed the range of sexual expression that residents might exhibit and include a discussion about the importance of staff training and policy development as ways to mitigate the need for interventions.

·      “Sexual Expression, Older Adults and Long-Term Care Settings,” was a panel discussion featuring Robin Dessel, who talked about her policy development at the Hebrew Home at Riverdale, the first facility of its kind to develop a policy to protect the sexual rights of nursing home residents.

·      “Promoting Positive Sexual Expression” was an interactive workshop led by Robin Goldberg-Glen and Ashley Mader, who helped participants recognize the negative sexual behaviors older adults may experience. The group talked about how negative body image affects sexuality, the media’s influence, and identified coping skills to manage the anxiety around changing and aging bodies.

During a poster session, I was interested in findings from a study that examined elder patients’ interactions when discussing sexuality with their physicians; the graduate student researcher hopes the study outcomes will motivate professionals to develop better interactions with elderly patients’ sexuality needs.

Kathy Greenlee, US Administrator of the Administration for Community Living and Assistant Secretary for Aging, spoke about the “strength of plurality” in working at the intersection of aging and disability. She affirmed the newly created Administration for Community Living’s commitment to focus on the shared needs of both the aging and disability communities, while respecting the unique needs and experiences of both populations.

 Monsignor Charles Fahey, a lifetime advocate for the elderly, addressed the need “to rejoice in our frailty as well as our strength in the third age” and touched upon humility in old age.  He defines the needs of the frail elderly as medical, economic, and social.

Ken Dychtwald, known for his visionary perspective on aging and demography, spoke passionately about the need for a new view of retirement that would allow people to move in out of leisure, work and educational experiences all across the span of lengthened lives. He said that when we begin to think differently, we begin to “move from aging with success to aging with significance.”

 Laura Carstensen, Stanford University Center on Longevity, discussed her work to change our youth-oriented culture, “In the end,” she said, “this isn’t going to be a story about old age at all. It’s going to be a story about long life.”

 Favorite Part of Conference

I especially enjoyed the opportunity to network with colleagues in a multidisciplinary conference community representing diverse settings, services and backgrounds in aging services across the country. We were all connected by our common goal of improving the quality of life for older adults. The exchange of ideas and experiences was “electric” and ignited my passion for the work I do.

I left Chicago thinking about how our culture’s “sexuality as taboo” and ageism relate to a reluctance to acknowledge and talk about the desire for physical intimacy, sexual identity, and sexual health. Avoidance of these topics can undermine the health and wellbeing of older people; further, ageism and homophobia have led to discrimination against LGBT older adults.

The question I have been pondering since the conference is how can we champion social changes that support a constructive response to our aging population and the necessity of recognizing sex and sexuality as integral to their health and identity? I’ll be looking for the answer between now and next year’s ASA conference in San Diego for the organization’s 60th anniversary.

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