Highlights from the 2022 American Society on Aging Conference

the American Society on Aging 2022 conference kicked off in New Orleans this past week. This year’s theme was focused on Advancing Economic Security with keynote speakers, sessions, workshops, and aging professionals speaking. Most of the sessions focused on one of three key areas of Advancing Economic Security through job opportunities, equity for aging in place, and the economics of caregiving.

As one of the first in-person events in the aging community to have its kick-off since the pandemic kept us all in isolation, the American Society on Aging 2022 conference has been in New Orleans this past week. This year’s theme was focused on Advancing Economic Security with keynote speakers, sessions, workshops, and aging professionals speaking on ASA’s five key thematic areas of Justice & Equity, Innovation & Social Impact, Health & Well-Bing, Economic Security, and Ageism & Culture. The Event began on April 11th with a total of over 369 sessions running through April 14th plus a pavilion full of organizations, working towards improvements in aging in a variety of diverse ways.

Most of the sessions focused on one of three key areas of Advancing Economic Security: job opportunities, equity for aging in place, and the economics of caregiving.

Older Workers in the Economy

Many sessions spoke on older workers in the US from opportunities to reskill to ageism and the importance of continuing to work - for many to afford to survive. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce stated that “The most critical and widespread challenge facing businesses is the inability to hire qualified workers for open jobs they need to fill.” Considering there are more than 15 million American retirees between the ages of 55 and 70 and many of them (at least 6.4%) looking for jobs, there is an opportunity here. The session Advancing Economic Security through Reskilling and Upskilling Older Workers featured key insights on this through Sheri Rose of Thrive, Senior Yahoo Columnist Kerry Hannon, Mary Furlong of Mary Furlong & Association, Greg Olsen the NY State Office for the Aging Director sharing NY-specific statistics on the impact of older workers on the economy in the state of NY and Lawrence Kosick and Judy Stelling of GetSetUp sharing their learning experiences from the past two years of upskilling and reskilling older workers.

Olsen highlighted how older workers are a vital segment of the NY economy citing:

  • State and local data show that you don't have an economy without older adults
  • 80% of NYS Retirement System Payouts Stay in NY - $10.6B annually
  • Non-profits don’t exist without these volunteers
  • 935,000 individuals age 60+ contribute 495M hours of service at an economic value of $13.8B
  • #1 givers to philanthropy, charity, travel, etc
  • Boomers spend a whopping $157 billion on trips every year.
  • Help fill the over 10 million job vacancies in the US
  • 61% of all US jobs and 43 percent of labor income was related to spending by the 50-plus cohort

While there are many hurdles to older adults working, the most prevalent being ageism Kosick and Stelling went on to prove that older workers not only offer experience and skills but are also perfectly capable of mastering new technologies. Stelling who directs a department of over 30 older adults who are 50+, states that the biggest obstacle that older workers face is confidence and limited opportunities to upskill and acquire the necessary tech skills. GetSetUp the company she works for has invested over $1.1 million dollars in their content creators since Jan 2021 who are all older adults (50+).

Stelling has noted throughout this time some keys to successfully integrating older workers into new tech areas:

  • Upskilling and reskilling on tech is essential
  • Peer-to-peer learning helps
  • Live and interactive classes are more impactful
  • Opportunities to practice are essential
  • Empowering community helps to foster growth

Senior Columnist at Yahoo Kerry Hannon recently wrote In Control at 50+: How to Succeed in the New World of Work. She will share insights on hurdles and opportunities for people looking to work after 50 in an Exclusive Author Interview with ASA CEO Peter Kaldes. Noteworthy among these insights was that a total of 26 states and Washington, DC announced raises in the minimum wage with many employers adding cash bonuses and making efforts to offer elder and child caregiving help as part of their benefits packages. She highlighted some positive shifts in the world of work that older workers should know about:

  • Employers are more open to remote workers. They perform well and it cuts operating costs for them. This is a boon for those who may struggle with commutes.
  • Contract or short-term projects are more common. These can lead to a full-time position or help assure people don’t have gaps in their resumes as they look for a full-time position. While these positions offer the flexibility they, unfortunately, don’t cover benefits like retirement accounts or healthcare plans.  
  • Entrepreneurship is growing for adults over 50. The Kauffman Foundation, which studies entrepreneurship, saw a steep increase in startup activity in 2020, with most of these new entrepreneurs being 45 and older.
  • Career changes in later life are becoming more commonplace
  • Lifelong learning is now an essential tool for staying up-to-date on your job or landing a new position when you are over 50.

People are living longer, healthier lives and many of them don’t plan to ever stop working. That means the norm will be people in the workplace who are in their 70s and 80s creating workplaces full of positively improving multigenerational synergies.

Equity for Aging in Place

As people are living longer and healthier lives many of them do not want to leave their homes and prefer to age in place. Plus the cost of senior living communities is beyond the budget of many aging adults. An increase in technology to help create more equity and alleviate the caregiving burden is helping to address some of these needs.

Ginna Baik from Amazon spoke at the event on Why Voice Tech is the Great Equalizer highlighting the fact that voice-enabled technologies like the Alexa are supporting older adults. According to Ginna not only are older adults leaning into voice tech but they are using it in a variety of diverse ways. Voice tech can be used to amplify safety and well-being by turning on lights (prior to rising) to help prevent falls, giving medication and appointment reminders, and reminding people of classes and opportunities to connect virtually for fitness, mental enrichment, and socialization.

Amazon is not the only company to recognize that aging well will require design thinking for new trends and technologies that will shape the future. The Design Thinking and Aging session shared insights into trends in the technology shaping tomorrow from Dr. Thomas Kamber of OATS, Deidre Lee from the AARP, and Steve Ewell of Consumer Technology Association Foundation. Not only did they discuss key consumer electronics from the 2022 CES event, but they also shared the technologies that you should know about for older adults.

5 Technology areas with growing consumer products for older adults

  1. Health Tech - The first health care company ever delivered a keynote address by Robert Ford of Abbott at CES showing a clear trend in health and technology coming together.  Up and coming products and players here include FreeStyle Libre system, which is empowering people to take ownership of their health; a new line of consumer wearables called Lingo, and other startups like Pear Suite which address the social aspects of health.
  2. Voice Tech - Amazon, Google, and other voice assistant leaders show great opportunities to assist older adults in controlling their environment.
  3. Smart Homes - Have a lot of innovation across a wide range of areas including lighting, video doorbells, thermostats, etc. Plus Ewell highlighted Moen’s smart faucets and showers that allow users to control the temperature and water amount via voice.
  4. Robotics - In this growing market there are a number of new robots coming out from Ameca robots with lifelike facial features to Labrador Systems robots that can assist with tasks throughout the home.
  5. Transportation - BMW grabbed attention for their color-changing car at CES but there were lots of driver assistance features and self-driving vehicles including the Indy Autonomous Challenge. Additionally, personal mobility products like WHILL and Bird and the partnership between them will make getting around easier as people age despite limitations they may face physically.

These are just a few of the up-and-coming technologies built to improve the lives of older adults. The growth in this sector will only increase as businesses understand the importance of this demographic.

Economics of Caregiving

Caregiving affects everyone whether they are a caregiver or not. Caregivers are employees all around you and many of them struggle with finances, due to their caregiving roles, and as this becomes more and more impactful it will be essential that businesses step up to create impact here. The Economics Aspects of Family Caregiving shared insights from Richard Eisenberg former editor of Next Avenue, Amy Goyer AARP Family and Caregiving Expert, Jason Resendez Executive Director UsAgainst Alzheimer’s, and Ms. Whiting on the economics of caregiving. They called attention to the need for policies and attitudes to change around caregiving and the role this plays in employees' lives.  

Debbie Howard and Jon Brody of Corporate Caregiver Camps shared ways for companies to actually implement this in their session on Improving the Economic Security of Working Family Caregivers - and the Companies Who Employ Them. At least 30% of every workforce across all age groups, genders, and pay grades are employee caregivers. US companies are losing US$68 billion per year on caregiver-related costs (i.e. absenteeism, turnover, and higher healthcare costs going forward); this number will more than double by 2050.

Practical company strategies to support employee caregivers

  • Establish KPIs to track caregiver-related costs is an important first step in gaining an understanding of the magnitude of the problem in your company.
  • Repurpose existing programs for the specific needs of employee caregivers is a low-cost, proactive initiative every company should consider doing right now (i.e. add a “caregiving planning” component to currently-offered financial and/or retirement planning courses; ditto for programs for stress/burnout management, self-care, etc.).
  • Foster a caregiver-friendly workplace by encouraging all employees to have a caregiving plan in place, as well as demonstrating a company’s commitment through the establishment of an Employee Resource Group (ERG).

With 369+ sessions at the ASA event, there were many subject areas covered on ways for aging to improve. These are just a couple of key areas that all of our organizations should be thinking about integrating, in order to help Advancing Economic Security for the older adults in our lives.

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