AARP Exec Seeks to Change America’s Perception of Growing Old

Published in Pawtucket Times on March 7, 2016

With the youngest of the aging baby boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, reaching their fifties, AARP launches a new ad campaign geared at connecting people’s hopes and dreams. According to a statement, this initiative was built on the foundation laid by the 2014 launch of Real Possibilities and “You Don’t Know ‘AARP,’” last month, the nonprofit unveiled its latest ad campaign that shines a spotlight on individuals tackling everything from brain health to new careers, introducing a new meme, “We Hear You.”

As part of AARP’s renewed focus on listening and responding to Americans over age 50, “We Hear You” highlights the many ways the organization celebrates life in extended middle age and helps people turn their dreams into realities. Also new in 2016, the ads feature AARP’s CEO Jo Ann Jenkins delivering the iconic “We Hear You” line to underscore the organization’s genuine commitment to helping baby boomers take control of their lives and their futures.

“We’ve seen Real Possibilities and “You Don’t Know ‘AARP’” really take hold over the last two years,” said AARP Senior Vice President of Brand Integration Barbara Shipley. “Now, we have a chance to add more momentum by putting a human face on the brand. The campaign shows very real people expressing wants and needs in terms of careers, travel, caregiving, brain health and fraud protection. It also introduces Jo Ann and her “We Hear You” message to prove we are in tune with what people are looking for at this time of their life.”

According to AARP, since Jenkins became AARP’s CEO in 2014, she tirelessly advocated for changing outdated beliefs and sparking new solutions so that everyone can live and age as they choose. The advertising campaign echoes many themes from her forthcoming book Disrupt Aging, most notably “own your age.” The book is now available for preorder on Amazon for $15.87 (hardcover). Copies will be available on April 5.

The first of the ads features AARP’s Life Reimagined program and will air during NBC’s primetime all-star tribute to Jim Burrows on Sunday, February 21. The second ad featuring the award-winning AARP the Magazine will air during the 88th Academy Awards on Sunday, February 28. The remaining spots will be rolled out throughout the year.

Redefining How We Grow Old

Next month, AARP/CEO Jo Ann Jenkins releases her new 272 page book, Disrupt Aging: A Bold New Path to Living Your Best Life at Every Age. AARP’s top official suggests it’s time to redefine what it means to grow old in America. Throughout its pages the Northern Virginia resident encourages readers to re-think the negative stories they consistently tell themselves and others, urging them to come together to change both the conversation about aging and its reality. While sharing these ideas with others, and meeting fearless people working to change what it means to age in America, Jo Ann was inspired to write her book.

Jenkins’s life experience and affiliation with AARP, the nation’s largest aging organization representing over 38 million members, brings her the needed life experiences to pen this tome. She is the chief executive officer of AARP. Previously, she served as its COO and, before that, president of AARP Foundation, AARP’s affiliated charity. Before joining AARP, she was the COO of the Library of Congress. She has received the Library of Congress Distinguished Service Award and in 2015 was named Influencer of the Year by the Nonprofit Times.
“60 Is Not the New 40.”

Jenkins notes that everyone has watched ads on TV or seen and in magazines—”50 is the new 30″ or “60 is the new 40.” AARP CEO Jo Ann Jenkins disagrees. 50 is 50, and she, for one, likes the look of it. In her highly focused but down-to-earth personal style, Jenkins says Disrupt Aging is not about defying aging or denying aging. It’s about “owning” your age.

In Disrupt Aging, Jenkins focuses on three core areas—health, wealth, and self—to show people how to embrace opportunities and change the way society looks at getting older. Here, she chronicles her own journey and that of others who are making their mark as disruptors to show readers how we can be active, healthy, and happy as we get older. Through engaging narrative, she touches on all the important issues facing people over age 50 today, from caregiving and mindful living to building age-friendly communities and making our money last.

Disrupt Aging provides readers practical, hands-on, highly useful information for a broad range of key issues, including: Taking Control of Your Health; Choosing Where You Live – or Want to Live; Financing Your Future; and Putting Your Experience to Work.

In Praise of…

Jenkins’s philosophy on aging has touched a chord with a number of aging experts and prominent persons who give their thumbs up to the project.

Arianna Huffington, cofounder, president, and editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post Media Group, says “Jo Ann Jenkins doesn’t just challenge the stereotypes of aging, she reduces them to rubble, showing that our later years can be just as productive, meaningful, and purposeful as our primary working years. Disrupt Aging is for anyone who insists on living a life of connection, engagement, expansion, and possibility—at any age.”

“Jo Ann Jenkins’s Disrupt Aging is spot-on: every single year is a gift. By confronting the most common stereotypes about aging, this book will help us all live each year to the fullest,” adds Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook and founder of LeanIn.Org.

Even Jeff Gordon, four-time NASCAR Cup Series Champion throws in his two cents about Disrupt Aging. . “Jo Ann Jenkins believes that age and experience can expand life’s possibilities for all of us. In this personal and thought-provoking book, she inspires us to seize the opportunities that longer lives give us and to embrace aging as something to look forward to, not something to fear.” Adds, Dan Marino, former NFL Quarterback, “In Disrupt Aging, Jo Ann Jenkins lays out a game plan for living your best life regardless of your age.”

Jenkins says that her book is for anyone who wants to continue exploring new possibilities in their later years, to celebrate new discoveries over declines, and to seek out new opportunities to live the best life there is. To order Disrupt Aging, go to http://www.amazon.com.

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The Best Of…The Challenges of Caring for Your Aging Parent

           Published July 3, 2008,  All Pawtucket All The Time

          It’s not easy being a parent.  Combine this with being a primary caregiver for an aging frail relative and you work a 48 hour day.  Sixty year old Karen Sciolto, like many of her aging baby boomer peers, took on care giving responsibilities in her mid-fifties.

           Five years earlier, the Scituate resident began her experience of taking care of frail adults by working as a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA).  “You really had to physically be able to move a person around and help to meet their emotional needs,” she stated.  She acknowledges that she was “sort of a jack-of-all-trades” and had to “know a little bit about a lot of things.”

          With her CNA job, Sciolto knew that the caregiver role and responsibilities in her family would ultimately fall upon her shoulders because her parents, even relatives were getting older.  “Very soiled long-john underwear discovered after the visit to an emergency room and a later inspection of the uncle’s house revealed “cockroaches and filth.”  He just could not take care of himself, she said.   Scattered piles of newspapers mingled with important papers and money found hidden in holes in his mattress pushed the niece in 2000 to become a caregiver for her 87-year-old uncle whose physical and mental health were deteriorating. 

         For six years, Sciolto was the solo caregiver of her uncle.  She would drop him off each day to the local senior center to give him physical, emotional and social stimulation.  The aging baby boomer would also juggle a variety of daily tasks — CNA assignments, housework, along with raising her daughter and caring for three horses.  “As a caregiver my whole life, revolved around meeting his needs,” she said. 

       Many times she was overwhelmed with the stress of providing 24 hour a day care for her frail uncle.  “You were lucky if you went to bed and could get a good nights sleep,” she added. 

A Generational Experience…

         According to Roberta Hawkins, Executive Director of the  Alliance for Better Long-Term Care, Sciolto’s care giving experiences are not unique but common to thousands of aging baby boomers in Rhode Island.  

         Rhode Island’s most visible aging advocate, who has led this nonprofit agency for over 32 years, understands care giving both on a personal and professional level.  In her sixties, Hawkins looks back at her personal experiences. In her younger days she took care of grandparents while raising her young daughter. In recent years, Hawkins would raise her grandchildren while providing care to her disable husband.

        Hawkins warns aging baby boomers “not to take on [responsibilities] that you can’t do.”  Know your abilities and also your limitations, she says.  “You really need to think clearly if you are the right person who can provide that care.”

        “Often times, adult children will feel guilty if they do not take care of their disabled parents,” observes Hawkins. “This may not be the right move due to their responsibility of raising children.  They may have limited patience to deal with the changing health care needs and personality of their older parent.”   

        If older parent and child did not get along in their earlier years, care giving just won’t work,” Hawkins says.  “There won’t be the patience or the connection needed to provide care in peace and harmony.”

 Every Day and Night

          “Care giving is a 24 hour, 7 day a week job,” Hawkins says. “Even if you bring in outside caregivers during the day you will still have to deal with nighttime and weekends,” she says.  “Nobody is happy” with household stress.  This may push the older person into withdrawing more into themselves so they become less of a burden to their adult children.   

          Sending your older parent to a senior center or day care site might not be the most appropriate strategy,” Hawkins adds.  “If the person was not a friendly or a social person, attending day care will not be a very happy experience,” she says.

         Meanwhile, Hawkins says that some problems may also surface if an adult child hires an outside caregiver to keep their aging parent at home.  “The older parent may be a mistrustful person and not want a stranger coming into their own home. This person may resent the fact that their children won’t be there for them and this can result in continuous complaints about the caregiver,” she says.

       “Before hiring an outside caregiver or becoming one yourself, always have a very frank discussion with the older person about your decision,” Hawkins recommends.  Conversations should begin before a health issue forces an adult child or spouse to make this decision without the wishes and desires of their older parent being known, she adds.

       Also, when the time comes to consider placement in an assisted living or nursing home facility, it becomes crucial for the older person to be included in the decision making process.  “Give them all the pros and cons for each and every decision,” Hawkins says.  “Match the older person to the place they are going to live in, not the other way around.”

Promises Made, Promises Broken

       Finally, caregivers must give themselves some time off to recharge their batteries.  “If there are siblings around be adamant that they help take care of their older parent, too” she tells aging baby boomers shouldering the care giving responsibilities.  “Everyone promises but they tend to be too busy with their lives to give any assistance,” she says.

       Sadly, Hawkins brings up the old saying “One mother can bring up five children but five children may not take care of the mom.”  So, true, she says, noting “I see it all the time.”

       Herb Weiss is a Pawtucket-based freelance writer covering aging, medical and health care issues.  The article was published in the July 3, 2008, All Pawtucket All The Time.  He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.