Yesterday San Diego’s Health and Human Services Agency, in partnership with Sharp Healthcare, AARP California, The San Diego Foundation, ABC Channel 10, and Kaiser Permanente Senior Advantage, held its 11th Aging Summit. It’s the first I had heard of and the first I attended. The woman sitting next to me said she had attended the previous one, two years ago, where the audience was so small they could be seated around a few tables in front of the stage. This year more than 2,000 people registered to attend the event in San Diego with another 500 people connected via webcast in a North County location.
I attended for two reasons: my recent injuries result from reduced bone density, a consequence of aging; and my book club’s decision to discuss Atul Gawande’s book, Being Mortal, which deals with issues of aging and what constitutes living well at the end of life at our next meeting in a week.
I can’t think of a better way to describe my reaction to the event’s program and workshops than to fall back on a boomer phrase: it blew my mind.
I had no idea San Diego was so committed to dealing with the inevitable increase in the number of people over the age of 65 in the future. San Diego not only has one of the best climates for people of all ages, it is clearly one of the most progressive places for a retiring population to live out final years.
The speakers threw out a number of facts, including the following:
- In 1900, the average life expectancy in the United States was 47. In 2000 it was 78. A recent cover of Time magazine showed the picture of an infant with the heading, “The first child to live to 142 years of age has already been born.”
- One speaker mentioned experiencing a serious infection and blood poisoning when she was a child and the complicated birth of one of her children. She pointed out that had those things happened just ten years earlier than she experienced them, they may have led to death.
- Today in San Diego 21,000 grandparents live with and provide substantial support for their grandchildren while the parents remain absent.
- For every case of elder fraud abuse we know of, there are likely another 23 cases we will not hear about because the victim is too embarrassed to tell anyone.
- Right now 65,000 people living in America are over 100 years old. That’s four times as many people as there were in 1990. The number is expected to increase eight-fold by 2050.
The event launched the Age Well San Diego Action Plan, which focuses on five areas of concern for an aging population: Health & Community Support, Housing, Social Participation, Transportation, and Dementia Friendliness.
That last one, ensuring San Diego provides a dementia-friendly environment for the increasing number of people over the age of 65, provides a good starting point for describing the current situation in San Diego–and probably in most other urban centers.
Nick Macchione, Director of the San Diego Health and Human Services Agency which runs Live Well San Diego, reported that in 2014, the number of people in San Diego with Alzheimer’s was 85,000. He also cited an easy-to-remember shortcut regarding Alzheimer’s: 5-5-35. Those numbers translate as 5 behaviors lead to 5 health consequences which 35% of dementia patients exhibit. Studies that report on these behaviors and consequences have concluded this means that about one third of patients with Alzheimer’s could have avoided it by making different lifestyle choices. I couldn’t write fast enough to record which studies Nick mentioned, but I found this report that corresponds closely with his points.
The five behaviors: unhealthy diet, smoking, physical inactivity, drinking alcohol, and having no friends.
The five consequences: hypertension, cardiovascular disease, cancer, type II diabetes, and depression.
The data behind these numbers explain why social participation is one of the themes of Live Well San Diego. In addition, each of the four other themes in the Age Well San Diego Action Plan include elements to address dementia.
This is the third year of the five-year Age Well San Diego program. The first two years were spent in researching and listening to the community in order to ensure the Action Plan addresses the right issues. That leaves three years for the community to work together to take the steps in the plan, which will lead to data collection so the successes can be replicated and expanded upon.
I knew San Diego is a great place to live when we moved here. But it’s an expensive place to live. And the Age Well San Diego Action Plan addresses the financial pressures on all San Diegans, including those over 65, so that the gift medicine has given us to live at least 30 years longer than our grandparents expected to live is seen as an opportunity, not a burden. San Diego is truly a wonderful place to live.
Note: The Poway Unified School District Transition Program; San Diego-Imperial Chapter, Boy Scouts of America; and San Diego Police Department Volunteer Traffic Patrol also provided assistance during the event.