Opportunities and challenges of aging explored

Head of AARP shared insights from senior group’s research

Jo Ann Jenkins
Approximately 200 people came to hear AARP President/CEO Jo Ann Jenkins speak about ageing. James L. Stroud, Jr. /MSR News

Jo Ann Jenkins, the president/CEO of the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) and author of the bestselling book Disrupt Aging, sat down in a conference room filled with close to 200 people at the Sabathani Community Center in South Minneapolis for a conversation about aging, retirement, health and personal responsibility.

The event, hosted by the Sabathani Chapter of AARP, was held on October 13. The conversation was moderated by Al McFarlane.

Audience members ranged in age from mid-30s to 80 years young. The main focus of the discussion was about AARP’s ongoing commitment to improve communities nationwide and to dispel myths about aging.

“We ourselves are sometimes our own worst enemies,” responded Jenkins to the opening question on the challenges she sees for seniors and how the community can be supportive of them. “As we think about it, we limit what we think we can do. So part of that is self-perception of, ‘Oh no, I can’t do that. Stop! I’m too old to do that.’ Or maybe they might say, ‘Maybe I want to go to school, but why would I do that in my 50s or 60s?’

Approximately 200 people came to hear AARP President/CEO Jo Ann Jenkins speak about aging
Approximately 200 people came to hear AARP President/CEO Jo Ann Jenkins speak about aging (James L. Stroud, Jr. /MSR News)

“I believe we have a personal responsibility to look out for ourselves, to think about our futures and take care of ourselves at a younger age,” continued Jenkins. “So that when you get into your 70s, 80s or 90s, that period of decline is a much shorter period and you are living healthier longer.”

Jenkins said that according to her research, we are living longer as a society, and 60 percent of our health is based on our environment and how we treat ourselves. Also, according to Jenkins’ research, another 20 percent of our health will be determined by the type of routine medical care we receive. Depending on a person’s earlier years of healthy living and being in a good environment, one could realistically manage as high as 80 percent of one’s own health outcomes.

Jenkins is a firm believer in the public sector being responsible for their portion of building communities that work for all people as they age. That includes such necessities as access to transportation and adequate housing. She said that by 2030, one out of five Americans are going to be over the age of 50. Therefore, it is her position that as we continue to live longer, we must figure out a plan that makes good use of those mature citizens to help in solving some of the problems we have in America.

For example, currently there is an AARP program in schools called Experience Corps, which is an intergenerational, volunteer-based tutoring program that has a successful track record of helping students not reading at their grade level to become great readers by the end of the third grade.

“Here in the United States, that’s our challenge, to see that with age comes experience and wisdom and learning how to celebrate that,” Jenkins responded to a question about ageism, how it became prevalent in America, and how to fix it. “One of the things that we are working on at AARP is something we call an Ageism Index. It will help places of employment look at their work practices and guidelines to make sure that they don’t have things in place that [will allow them to] discriminate against someone because of their age.”

After her conversation with the moderator, Jenkins took questions from the audience and was asked if AARP was still committed to its core principles. “We have not in any way stepped back from our principles,” she replied. AARP’s principles are collective purpose, collective voice and the power of the 50-plus population to change the market based on their needs, according to Jenkins.

She said AARP will be prepared to present solutions to whomever is the next president and in the next Congress or Senate, and that Social Security will be on the top of that list in response to a recent survey taken by AARP. The majority of the members say that Social Security is their number-one priority.


James L. Stroud, Jr. welcomes readers’ responses to jlswriter@gmail.com.