Your life is nothing if not a highly complex collection of interrelated parts and pieces. We navigate our colorful emotional journeys and simultaneously cultivate our roles in families, in the community, and in the workplace. And, of course, we manage the many layers of our health, our relationships, and our goals and dreams. These different parts can’t function altogether separately from each other. On top of it all, we must strive to build and maintain bridges between the interrelated elements of our lives.
These many elements evolve throughout the course of our lives and so must our understanding of our needs and the proper care of those bridges. Why should our resources and support systems be any less complex and multidimensional? This is the question the International Association of Gerontology and Geriatrics responded to at the 2017 IAGG World Congress of Gerontology and Geriatrics in San Francisco. Under the encompassing theme of “Global Aging and Health: Bridging Science, Policy, and Practice,” leaders, innovators, and caregivers from wide disciplines and from all over the world came together to share ideas and build momentum toward an empowered future for aging adults.
As one of many local educational partners, Institute on Aging (IOA) hosted a day event during the conference, welcoming nearly 50 visitors from 15 different countries. It’s clear from our conversations: We all share so many similarities, and our differences serve to advance innovative developments.
“Everybody around the globe is looking for sustainable models of care of the elders. And that’s true whether you’re from China, Japan, India, New Zealand, England, Russia or Germany—because there’s a boom everywhere,” says IOA’s Senior Education Specialist Caitlin Morgan. She continues, “An aging boom is occurring worldwide. That’s a big issue that binds so many countries. Everybody is looking for models that are replicable and sustainable. When the IAGG participants viewed our programs at IOA, they were very excited and inspired. Some of them enthused ‘We want to create something like the IOA model on our home turf.’”
Our Programs for Compassionate Elder Care
We’re honored that our programs set such compelling examples of integrated care for the benefit of aging adults around the world. We’ve always been proud of our programs’ reach throughout the San Francisco Bay Area and believe strongly that these models are adaptable and robust enough to evolve along with the individuals they serve, anywhere in the world. These programs exist to help people live at home as they age, to support their hopes and dreams that shouldn’t have to drop away even in life’s later years.
Despite the controversy around healthcare as a commodity in our country, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that: “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself [or herself] and of his [or her] family, including food, clothing, housing, and medical care and necessary social services.”
People from all countries and of all ages can relate to the desire for a home in which to grow and thrive. We never stop growing at any point in our lives. We needn’t stop thriving either, as long as we have the resources called for at any given life phase.
Our international conference guests toured our all-inclusive healthcare center and witnessed the incredible range of services we provide to an already diverse and multilingual population in and around San Francisco. Programs of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly, or PACE, lay a foundation for support in the community, so older adults can continue to live at home and not feel as if they have no choice but to move into a nursing home or other assisted facility. These programs wouldn’t be possible on such a large scale if not for the involvement of public policy and the active support of Medicare and Medicaid. PACE sets a standard of safe and compassionate care—but each case sets its own standards based on who the individual is and what they currently need to be healthy and whole.
Our On Lok Lifeways program raises the bar with individualized care plans that reflect each of our aging community members. Participants can count on specialized health care, customized meals, accessible exercise and physical therapy, experiences with arts and other engaging activities, and being an integral part of the larger community. Our program is breaking the molds that perpetuate ignorance and ageism and stagnation.
We’re aging out loud—ensuring that others can witness the wonderful potential of a long life without unnecessary limits. Ultimately, we’re going to need help spreading this incomparable benefit to countless others here and around the world.
One thing we share as diverse humans is a need for connection and support. As we age, we will all go through transitions around our roles in life, our identities, and our lifestyles. That need for connection and support will not go away. In fact, it may become even more important to us and perhaps more difficult to access in the midst of those changes.
“They need to be connected and feel like they belong,” says Dr. Patrick Arbore, EdD, who started the hotline for older adults back in 1973.
Word has spread about the compassionate power of our Friendship Line and the Center for Elderly Suicide Prevention, and our IAGG guests were overcome to meet him and to ask questions.
For more than four decades, IOA’s Friendship Line has been making connections with older adults who are lonely or just in need of friendly support. Sometimes, aging adults call in because they have no one else to talk to. Other times, they call in because there are certain subjects that they have a difficult time talking about with the people who are in their lives. In fact, there are certain subjects—like depression, death, and suicide—that society trains us to avoid, doing a great disservice to those in our community who are facing these real life experiences. At IOA, volunteers and staff are open and compassionate to callers who may be wading through their own depths of feeling. Dr. Arbore explains,
“We really want to help people find … a new vision about growing older. It isn’t about decline and sickness and this impoverishment; it’s really about finding other aspects of what it means to get older.”
Dr. Arbore and the rest of the IOA family are committed not just to providing the resources that support aging adults’ health and well-being, but also to empowering them to see aging as just another phase of life that is still ripe for fresh goals and personal growth. As Dr. Arbore says, “We would like to create a new vision—create a new mythology about what it means to grow old in this country.”
Aging in America and Around the World
Our aging loved ones tell us their stories. Every story is unique: in the past, the present, and into the future. Without these stories, we wouldn’t have a roadmap for our programs. So, we listen, and we keep listening. When we listen to stories from around the world, we can confirm that these programs would benefit so many more people in so many different places.
Our global IAGG community enjoys the enduring bridge of compassion. Our PACE model, Social Day Program, behavioral health services, Elder Abuse Prevention Program, and Friendship Line, among other offerings, translate clearly and travel smoothly across those bridges, and we can’t wait to see similar programs develop in other communities around the globe.
Even as we improve, broaden, and refine our programs, the overall approach does not become any simpler. If anything, our approach becomes more complex to accommodate the legal, political, civic, economic, medical, scientific, psychological, familial, and emotional complexities of our lives today. As we invest our love and energy in these resources for our citizens with more years behind them, we are investing in ourselves: We are all aging, and we all need continuous connection and support. Through IAGG and international communities like it, we are able to support each other as we share stories and ideas. Language need not be a barrier when we already share a desire to make the lives of elders better around the world.
We are having conversations like these every day at Institute on Aging, and we would love for you to join in. No one is left out of the discussion when we’re talking about how to make our lives better, individually and in the community. To learn more about our inspiring programs or about how you can help, connect with us here.