2009 CARP Conference offers a new look at aging

The second annual event took place on October 29 in Toronto and was designed to reflect many of the same themes as ideaCity, Canada’s Premiere “Meeting of the Minds” and visionary think-tank. Although CARP (derived from Canadian Association of Retired Persons) draws up images of those 65 years and up, the target market actually reflects the 45 Plus crowd — or Zoomers. The term Zoomer (baby-boomers with zip) is the brainchild of media guru Moses Znaimer who believes that this group still has the ability to create influential and positive change in society.

The one day CARP event featured 16 of the world’s brightest minds. Speaker content was divided into four sections: New Vision of Aging Overview, Extraordinary Lives, Self-Deliverance and Healthy Living. While the content focused on the challenges of the aging process, there was plenty of room for inspiration from both the young — and the young at heart.

The show-opening performance of nine-year old cellist and music prodigy San Rim was a moving reminder that the energy and dreams we once felt in our youth shouldn’t be forgotten as we advance into old age. We are all capable of performing and making a difference — if even in small ways — and that difference can be maintained throughout life.

The art and science of aging gracefully was a theme evident throughout the conference. Daniel Perry, Executive Director of the not-for-profit Alliance for Aging Research in Washington D.C., emphasized the need to focus on the underlying science and biology of aging to meet the challenges of the oncoming “silver tsunami.” Isabel Hoffmann-Miles, President of the Iberian Chapter of the World Academy of Anti-Aging, discussed aging diseases and the ongoing threat of environmental and chemically processed contaminants to our health.

Perhaps the highlight of the conference belonged to three speakers who were rapidly approaching (one of whom had already approached) their 100th birthday. Diana Athill, a British literary editor and novelist who worked with some of the most important writers of the 20th century, spoke about the “rhythm in life” and the importance of living in the present moment.

Sydney Bacon, a 99 year-old retired businessman, raconteur and 35 year resident of the Sutton Place Hotel in Toronto, reminded us to take time to nourish relationships and make friends. The best way to negotiate the hurdles and pressures in life was to follow Shakespeare’s adage and take time to “know thyself” and “to thine own self be true.”

Jaring Timmerman, a 100 year old swimmer and holder of four world records in his age group, summarized the secret to longevity through an acronym — GEDS. Genes, Exercise, Diet and Spirit are all key elements in maintaining an enthusiastic and joyful life. Timmerman, who swears he never took a pill in his life, refers to a combination of “Vim, Vigour and Vitality” to ensuring a long life.

Insights into the practical aspects of aging and its potential challenges were offered by world-renowned experts who took a look at some of the serious issues surrounding death. Topics ranged from discussions regarding choices related to fatal illnesses to thoughts on assisted suicide, leading edge burial methods, cryonics and tips on fine tuning the art of the obituary. The sometimes serious tone of the session was broken up by requisite moments of levity. Internationally acclaimed filmmaker John Zaritsky relived his days as a ski bum in Vancouver and told us how his days of hanging around with younger people helped to shape his aging process. At 66, John is working on his latest documentary, a musical comedy about dying he calls Leave Them Laughing.

The final session focused on healthy living and the importance of prevention and strategy to maintaining overall good health and lifestyle. Discussions from international experts on current trends in pandemic preparation to products that help strengthen our immune system to prevent disease were timely and well received. The importance of good financial health was stressed by financial guru Dr. Sherry Cooper who provided tips on how to ensure a healthy retirement.

Dr. Alan Hirsch, Neurological Director of the Smell and Taste Research and Treatment Foundation in Chicago, delivered a scientific overview as to how certain tastes and aromas can affect behaviour and interactions between individuals. Scents are key to experiencing a sense of nostalgia, and one study showed that the smell of baked goods was the #1 reminder of childhood memories.

While the CARP conference proved that certain aspects of aging are definitely no laughing matter, a certain amount of laughter in your life doesn’t seem to hurt. Sessions were broken up at strategic points throughout the day by experts in relaxation and yoga, strength training and good old fashioned swing-style dance. Award-winning dance group the Jitterbugs moved the audience with a rousing routine that had even the most exercise-challenged wishing they were swinging on stage.

The conference ended on a high note with interactive exercises led by award-winning filmmaker, journalist and “laughologist” Albert Nerenberg. To Nerenberg, “Laugh F/X” is critical for general wellness, and he encourages Zoomers to engage in the increasingly popular practice called “laughter yoga” that is infecting the young at heart everywhere.

There is a new vision of aging out there and it’s taking the world by storm. Zoomers are a vibrant and persistent bunch determined to focus on the living process. Having seen the energy, confidence and inspiring spirit of both the conference speakers and attendees, it’s clear that Zoomers are the ones who will have the last laugh in life — perhaps even in death. As John Zaritsky so nobly points out in his upcoming musical comedy… always “Leave Them Laughing.”

For detailed bios of the 2009 CARP conference speakers, please click here.

Karen Hegmann is Principal of K-Vision Communications and a Toronto-based freelance writer.