I was so delighted to be invited to attend today’s Women and Aging 2011 Panel Discussion hosted by Volunteers of America at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.  I was especially excited too, because one of my long-time boomer blogger idols was on the panel – Arianna Huffington.

My alarm went off at 4:30 a.m.  Rise and shine.  I showered, did my hair and dressed in my slim black a-line skirt and new black sweater with the pretty ruffles and was out the door and on the Amtrak platform by 6:00 a.m. ready to roll to D.C.

The topic of women and aging and the implications for an aging population are near and dear to my heart, not only for me personally as I age and as I become more of a caregiver to my aging mom, but also for those female colleagues and friends of mine who are caring for their aging parents and grandparents.  There are so many caregivers and those in the sandwich generation too, who are caring for their parents and still caring for their kids.

The panel was moderated by Dr. Bob Arnot, a well-known physician and former NBC News correspondent.  In addition to Arianna, others on the panel included Debra Ness, president of the National Partnership for Women & Families, Mike King, national president and CEO of Volunteers of America (VOA), and Lorraine Cortes-Vazquez, executive vice president of multicultural markets and engagement for AARP.

“We’re going to have a lively, fascinating, provocative discussion about the challenges faced by older women,” said the VOA spokesperson as she introduced the panel.

My ears perked up.  I couldn’t wait to hear what these important experts had to say about this important topic.

According to VOA, our nation is on the cusp of one of the most dramatic demographic shifts in its history as a projected 71.5 million people will be age 65 or older by 2030. (Oh my, I’ll be 72 in 2030.  Hope the future starts to slow down, I have lots of things I want to do before then.)

VOA says that the demands that shift will place on our country’s current system of providing elder care are daunting, affecting workplaces, health care and public policy for years to come.  (I agree, this is a BIG ISSUE and IS ONLY GOING TO GET BIGGER AND BIGGER.)

VOA says that many Americans, especially women, are still unprepared and unaware of how these changes will affect them. (I definitely agree.  Maybe we are unprepared because it’s scary to think about growing older, so we postpone dealing with the facts and figures until reality sets in, and then, and then, and then, it is too late.)

Are there any benefits to getting older?

Arianna awoke at 4:00 a.m. (just like me) to catch her plane this morning and forgot her contacts and heels. “That’s the great advantage of growing older,” she added,  “You can do it without your heels and contact lenses.”  (I agree Arianna, I prefer flats and like my progressive eye glasses more than contacts.)

Debra chimed in that there is something liberating about getting older:  “My husband told me I had a stain on the back of my jacket.  I wore it anyway because I was going to be sitting in a chair and no one would see it.  When I was 30, I would not have let this happen.”

Lorraine spoke about how great it is to be 60.  “I had a hole in my stockings this morning and I just pulled them off,” she said. (Wow, I had a teeny tiny hole in my black stockings this morning too, but I didn’t change them.  When I was 30, I would have never gone out without spotless stockings.  I so agree, it is liberating to be 50+.)

Not all the news is bright.

Sadly, the consensus from the panel was that today our society does not honor those aging, but rather most of us see it as a burden to take care of our elders.  Arianna said that in her home country of Greece that “as you get older, you are more revered and respected. “The world needs your wisdom as you age,” she said.

The focus turned to women and aging because so many women out live their spouses and so many women out live their retirement savings.  In addition, there continues to be wage disparity between women and men, so women tend to save less.  Plus, 61 percent of caregivers today are women and when they are giving care to others they tend to physically neglect their own care.  These female caregivers tend to be impacted economically because they must leave the workforce to care for their elderly parents (many more moms than dads) or utilize their assets to care for their elderly parents and then the cycle repeats itself.

How do we prepare for caregiving?

Lorraine said that a woman who is 55-60 will live 27-30 more years.  So she must prepare earlier.  (Ooh, I really listened closely as I am one of those women that Lorraine is talking about.)

She said that there are four key buckets to consider:

1. Health – I need to make sure that I get my regular preventive checkups – mammograms, sugar screening, cholesterol screening, pap test, etc.
2. Decisions – I need to be decisive and let my family know what my plans are for old age, medical proxies, power of attorneys, wills, and more.
3. Home and Community – Where and how do I want to live.  Are there adequate medical facilities in those areas for when I age?
4. Finances – Medicare will not provide for long-term care insurance.  Am I saving appropriately for my life expectancy?

So much to think about.  It all seems overwhelming.  Not only for me as I begin to age, but also as I, along with my sister N, take on a greater role of caregiver responsibilities for my soon to be 90 year old mom.

Sleep to the rescue.

Sleep always seems to get in the way, especially for aging women and women caregivers.  (Don’t I know it.)

Arianna talked about having a ‘crusade for sleep.’ She has set up napquest rooms at AOL.  (Go Ari.  Go Ari.  I love nappy times when I can grab them on a weekend, but naps are never an option during busy work weeks.)

“There is something about sleep deprivation,” said Arianna.  “We need to learn to nurture ourselves. We will feel better about ourselves if we sleep. There is so much reliance on sleep medication.  We need really good sleep hygiene, it is important.  Never sleep with your devices charging by your bed. Don’t take your day work into your night work.” (I wanted to hug Arianna.  I am on a sleep crusade as well.  Only it is not working too well this week.)

More to share
There’s much more to share on the subject of women and aging and since I am passionate about this subject you will be hearing more blog posts once I finish reading the VOA report on Boomer Bust 2011, a research study investigating the financial realities faced by seniors and their caregivers today.

Meantime, I did ask Lorraine about where boomer women can go to for help on this topic.  Her answer was to check out the AARP Design, Create, and Share Program.  It sounded like a good first start. In addition, you can find more policy information on the Volunteers of America site and learn more about policies at the National Partnership for Women & Families.  Of course, I can’t forget that Arianna said The Huffington Post is going to start a section on aging.  Maybe Arianna will share my business card that I gave her with her editors and they will ask me to write a column or two.  I must be dreaming.  Oh, yes, is that Judi, Judi, Judi pictured with Arianna Huffington?  Yes, it is.  Bold, brave Judi with an “i” asked Arianna to take a picture with her and she said yes.

It was a great day, but since it is past my bedtime I better do as Arianna says and “not take my day work into my night work.” I’m shutting off my computer now.

Talk to you soon.