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How to Create an Age-Friendly Community: Highlights of GVSU's 12th Annual Aging Conference

I was given the opportunity by the Grand Rapids Community Foundation to attend the 12th Annual Art & Science of Aging Conference on February l7th at Grand Valley State University. The event was well organized, with capacity registrants, and offered various workshops throughout the day.  

Margaret B. Neal, PhD, MUS, BA, Director/Professor, Portland State University Institute on Aging, delivered the keynote address. She presented the research on how and why the age-friendly community movement is growing.  These communities benefit people of all ages and abilities because there are economic and social reasons for creating an age-friendly community.  

Dr. Neal mentioned that often, very little planning is done for aging and that “we are wasting the only growing national resource that we have.” This short video very well explains the concepts addressed by all the speakers at this conference-- https://youtu.be/ZOA1v4-2Fos.  It is titled “The Big Idea in 4 Minutes—Coming of Age in Aging America.”

Susie Marsh, a professional organizer and social worker, presented a workshop entitled “Downsizing, Moving and Clutter Challenges in the Homes of Older Adults.” She did an excellent job covering the stressful process of downsizing and moving during life transitions for older adults, including how to more easily downsize, how to reduce clutter and how to more effectively handle paperwork. 

She addressed the difference between collecting and hoarding, discussed assessment tools and how to help a friend or family member with hoarding issues. Susie offered many community and on-line resources to assist people with “chronic disorganization.” Topics such as ADD, hoarding, depression and anxiety were addressed in reference to removing clutter in the home. Susie’s website is SusiesOrganizationSolutions.com and contains many helpful resources. 

“Looking Up While Life is Pushing You Down” was a workshop offered by Dave Kampfschulte, M.Ed., BA, Certified Grief Specialist. He covered all the many factors that go into resiliency. These included:

  • Benefiting from prior experience
  • Willingness to take risks
  • Being able to ask for help when needed
  • Being capable of taking some kind of action
  • Having the ability to keep things in perspective
  • Utilizing self-reflection and gained insights
  • Turning life issues over to a “higher power” or using a constructive life philosophy 

In his presentation, Dave covered the importance of emotional intelligence, doing your own work towards greater self-understanding and knowing what is involved in the grieving process.  Books recommended included: Grit by Angela Duckworth, Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman, When Bad Things Happen to Good People by Harold Kushner and Learned Optimism by Martin Seligman. 

The closing session for the conference was titled “Let Your Voice Be Heard: A Community Conversation,” presented by Jennifer Munoz, Associate State Director at AARP and Suzanne Schulz, Managing Director of Design, Development and Community Engagement, City of Grand Rapids. Addressed were the actions that local officials and community organizers need to take to support residents in Grand Rapids who want to remain in their homes and neighborhoods as they age. 

Attendees were asked, “What can we do as a community to affect longevity and quality of life here in Grand Rapids?”  To shape the city into a more age-friendly community has been made a part of the “Master Plan for 2017” for Grand Rapids.

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