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Welcome to Mavericks for Senior Living: Challenging The Way We Age. We are two innovators and entrepreneurs who have huge hearts and passion for our older adults. And we see all kinds of opportunities to improve today’s system for how we age.

In this episode we talk about challenging the narrative around aging with Karen Brown, CEO, Strategist on Innovations for Aging and the Longevity Economy, Advisor, and Caregiver. Karen’s “think differently” philosophy has made a huge impact in Colorado and across the nation.

She is the CEO of iAging, Ambassador of Aging 2.0 Denver Chapter, Director of Age-Friendly Workplace Initiative of Changing The Narrative in Colorado, and a catalyst in all things aging.

“Aging needs a huge frame to encompass all that it is. It is time to reframe aging to get the whole picture.” 

Sara Breindel, Changing the Narrative blogger


In this episode we refer to Denver Startup Week (Sept 16-20, 2019) sessions on the Longevity Economy. If you’re interested, sign up for these events below:

Want to join the Maverick Movement? Have a story on how you or your team are fostering ingenuity. Share it with us and check out our other episodes to light your innovation fire. Don’t forget to subscribe for more great interviews.

Until the next challenge!


Below is a transcript of the episode, modified for your reading pleasure. For more information on the people, sources and ideas in the episode, see the links at the bottom of this post.

Katherine: We are honored today to have Karen Brown with us, who is very active in the “all things aging” community and is influencing big changes.

Karen: Thank you Kathy. I am delighted to be here and so excited that you and Francis have really tackled this topic and are introducing this podcast series.

Katherine: We’re excited to talk to you today because you have a lot of things going on and why don’t we start there. What are all of the things that you are working on right now?

Karen: I am actually kind of involved in all things aging. That’s what I really talk about. I serve on the governor’s task force for the strategic Action Planning Group on aging. I also am very involved in a campaign called Changing The Narrative, which talks about ageism, and we have to have a new offshoot campaign called Age Friendly Workplaces. I head up the Aging 2.0 Denver chapter which really focused on technology and aging, and have a consulting practice called iAging. So that’s why I say all things aging and I really connect all facets of that arena.

Katherine: I met you last year at Denver Startup Week. There was a session that you put on, I think AARP sponsored it and Aging 2.0. And for you listeners out there who have any interest, Aging 2.0 is a fantastic organization. The Denver chapter here is very active. We’ll put some information in our show notes about joining for those who are listening.

Karen: Denver Startup Week is coming up in September. It’s the 16th through the 20th. And there are 4 different panels that will be going on this year focused on the Longevity Economy. You can see/register for the sessions here.

Katherine Tell us a little bit about changing the narrative. That was one of the things that Francis and I talked about. We’re here to challenge, and we challenge with curiosity what needs to change in the world of aging today. I was intrigued when you talked about changing the narrative so tell us a little bit about that.

Karen: Changing The Narrative is actually a campaign that’s being funded by Rose Community Foundation as well as The Next 50 Initiative, and the campaign really focuses on looking at how we talk act think and treat older people. So it’s really looking at the whole concept of just ageism exist and if it does what kinds of things can we do to really evolve our thinking around that topic. It was actually a kind of like the birth by an organization called the Frameworks Institute. The Frameworks Institute is an organization that tackles issues that sort of have garnered a bad rap for some reason and aging was one of those. They couldn’t understand why there wasn’t more connectivity relationships opportunity for older people and as they looked a little bit closer they recognized that there was a there was an ‘ism’ attached to it and that negative things are generally attached to just growing older. That’s how we got started. And that’s where we’re at in 2018. A team of maybe a dozen different presenters made more than 48 presentations across the state to thousands of people talking about how we talk about ageism. So that that’s really kind of the guts of what it is their tagline is ‘ending ageism together.’

Katherine: Those 48 presentations that were given across the state of Colorado, were those same presentations or similar presentations given across the nation? Or is this the Colorado initiative.

Karen: This is actually a Colorado initiative. It’s my understanding that there are a couple other states that have a smaller campaign where they’ve done you know maybe a dozen presentations. But Colorado amazingly has had a highly receptive climate all the way from libraries wanting us to come in and do presentations to the attorney general’s office actually presentations have been done at the ages office to all of their attorneys because there are attorneys represent older people and fraud and litigation and those kinds of lawsuits. So we we’ve talked to a vast array of different groups. But Colorado certainly is leading the nation from what we understand in terms of getting the word out there about really trying to evolve our thinking and talking and acting towards older people.

Katherine: That is really interesting and I’m glad I’m not surprised to see Colorado on the forefront of this. And I imagine that you have a little bit to do with that as well. Because you’re very active in this community. The objective is to reframe how we think about aging.

Karen:  They put together three different cards that when you go through a three hour training talk about basically justice. I mean how we treat people that we treat all people equally that as we age every person ages and they build momentum. And the third part is ingenuity. Why does it matter? What’s at stake? So they really try to help us look at things from a different perspective and reframe our perspective from us and them. It’s a part of our community that aging automatically equates with decline and deterioration. Interestingly enough I think it’s less than 5 percent of older people actually end up in a nursing home in skilled care. The vast bulk of older people actually live out their lives in generally good shape just we tend to have put them off onto the back burner once they hit 65 and retire. And then that whole concept of dependency that you know once you’re older you’re completely dependent on everybody else again for a small percent of the population that does occur. But we’re seeing now that that timeline is growing where we’re actually independent and healthier much longer. So those are kind of the themes of what we talk about.

There’s the other thing that they talk about too is fatalism. You know it’s interesting because very few foundations actually support aging 2% of the foundations the U.S. give grants to support programs that tackle aging or help older people. But a part of it is a fatalistic perspective but you know they’re old. There’s nothing we can do about it. And a kid that’s a tiny part of the population that gets to the point where they are so challenged that they really are 100 percent dependent on other people. So that’s kind of the theme and you know the direction of what we talk about.

Katherine: And do you address at the way that the older population stays in the workforce longer and how that fit?

Karen:  You know one of the things that came out of this change in the narrative as we did the presentations last year or 48 after almost every presentation somebody would come up and say you know what I’m 40. I’ve left the workforce care for my kids. I was out five years I’m having a real hard time getting back into the workforce. Somebody was 55 that I was outside downsized right sized whatever you want to call it but I’m out of work.

Now I have to work like I need that money so I can retire and I may actually be working with Herman a third person a 65 year old actually said that I just retired from a 20 year career. I am so excited to do something different you know like onward new endeavor. When we heard those things we actually decided that the business community might need sort of a reminder and some documentation that older people in the workforce is highly valuable. So we actually put out a brochure together a woman named Janine Vandenberg who kind of heads up the change in the narrative put a brochure together that really talks about. The value of an older person the workforce. I’m not suggesting that there’s any less value for any generation. It’s just you miss what keeps up these people involved because they do bring a lot to the to the picture.

So get it rolled out of the changing the narrative so that the older population can bring the maturity the experience the being good advisors and mentors potentially for some of the younger population who comes with some new fresh ideas. Working together seems to be a really great approach to getting some innovation in the world especially in Denver it’s very much a startup world and I’m seeing more and more of people who are I would say over 60 even starting up companies which we don’t think about that in startup world.

I think you point out something about the mentoring in one of the great things that we have in certainly across the globe now is the recognition that we have peer to peer mentoring and reverse mentoring. So not just older people educating younger people but even younger people helping older people who maybe don’t have the same skill set whether it’s the social media avenue. So it works both ways. I think that the mentoring is working both ways and working out really well where it’s where it’s being enacted.

Katherine: That’s a really good point. Two-sided mentoring. What are some really interesting things that you have learned? I know you and I talked about some terminology that we use. It’s very common that maybe we should consider changing.

Karen: Yes. You know one of the things this is something that comes up I’m there’s a another we can put this on your show just called the quick guide and it has certain words that that kind of bring a negative connotation. So that word silver tsunami you know like I my training us as a geologist and a tsunami is a massive wave that comes in and generally obliterates a village. OK. It can destroy the village because of the massive impact. The UN it expected nature of it. So to call it the Silver Tsunami brings a rather negative connotation. So that’s one of those things that we really want to change rather than that catastrophic perspective. You know we can talk about you know Americans are just living longer and healthier. That’s what’s happening. It’s not a silver tsunami and it’s not just for the boomer population. Every generation actress is going to live longer and longer and longer. Or at least that’s expectation. And so what we’re bringing to the world is only the beginning of what’s going to happen in the years to come.

Katherine: And that’s something that I did not know. I learned recently that it’s not just the boomer population this wave will continue. How does changing my narrative look at that.

Karen: So what we’re actually doing through the age friendly work place initiative is I I’m connecting with Chambers race businesses business alliances and coordinating presentations. So a team myself and another person have a team of about eight or nine women who are working on this part specifically and one man one guy’s joining the team too. And we actually go out and do presentations and talk to people about what’s going on businesses actually at this point in time. Generally speaking we’ve got a lot of receptivity. And I think part of that is the recognition that our unemployment rate here in Colorado is about 2 1/2 percent.

So that means that every employer is looking very hard to find people to help them you know to grow their their business which ultimately grows the local economy which ultimately grows the state economy and keeping those older people employed in some capacity is highly beneficial too because that means that more discretionary income they can actually continue spending as opposed to being on a fixed income. I do think it’s interesting. There’s you know. I was at a presentation this morning that I and Nancy Fingerhut gave and a woman raised her hand and said you know one of the concerns that we had when she was in the corporate world just like you know is that just as you described. Well if all the older people stay on there won’t be room for the younger people to move up and the salary caps will impact the lower people.

But I’m seeing a big shift an opportunity from some of the startups in this space like a company called Wave and another company called Gibson Arnold who are actually looking at finding ways to engage older employees not in a full time capacity sometimes in full time but oftentimes in what might be considered half time or three force time work or even project work so they stay connected for it. Phased retirement maybe three four or five years but each year they ratchet down their involvement. So that allows for that older person to mentor some of the younger people coming up. It allows for a slight reduction in their salary lightening the load so that those people coming up can get increases in wages and keeps the company whole. By keeping that historical knowledge place based training the younger ones come in. So I think they’re starting to be a little bit more insight into how do we evolve things to tap into both of multiple sets of generations of workforce.

Katherine: Glad to hear that. And I’m looking forward to having CO be on the forefront of making some real change in the nation. You’re really involved also in technology and the aging population. Tell us a little bit about what you find in the technology world right now?

Karen: As you well know, caregiving is one of the biggest challenges that anybody who is connected to an older person is probably experiencing whether you are a senior living community whether you are a home caregiver. If you’re looking for support we have an incredible shortage of caregivers. What’s happening in that space like the Serenity app people are trying to design products and solutions that will lighten the load for the existing caregivers those family members formal or informal and more power that the older person. So that is certainly a big frontier. But as in aging 2.0 you may remember that we have eight grand challenges caregiving and care coordination are two of those they probably are the biggest ones right now. There are things like you know opportunities through startups like silver nest which is a startup that focuses on home sharing for a boomer an empty nester. I think it’s an amazing product and solution. I actually spoke with a fellow named Johnson Baba who twenty five years ago. They came up with the same idea but it was before the Internet. And so what they tried to do was manually you know meet people individually advertise and over a two year time period they made twenty five matches. Of people who are a little bit younger who wanted to share a home with an older person and help them out. So an effort in two years I think they’ve now topped 75000 matches all because of the amazing capabilities of algorithms and the ability to be on the Internet.

You’re in the tech space as well I mean you probably know more about the caregiving stuff than I do to go into caregiving is not a lucrative career move right now but they’re so desperately needed.

Katherine: I was at Argentum recently in and conference and they talked about some across the board caregiver education that would allow caregivers a career path and bumps in pay along the way as they met certain criteria. I’m looking forward to talking more about that too and will probably do many episodes just on the topic of how do we deal with the caregiver shortage that we will have with this amazing population that’s going to continue aging and aging better than they ever have in the past. Notice I didn’t say silver tsunami changing my narrative.

Karen:  Oh that’s perfect. You know also tied to the technology space which really kind of ties with caregivers. I mean I can think of two other products that I’ll just mention and certainly I am not saying these are the end all but I think they’re very interesting. There’s a product called G.P.S. smart so and it’s a sole that fits inside of a shoe. You connect it to your iPhone. And for the caregiver and for the loved one you finally have that ability to give them some freedom because the minute they leave a perimeter that you mark on your iPhone or your laptop the caregivers alerted. And you can check on mom just to be sure everything’s OK. And I think it’s a godsend for the caregiver because she or he do not have to be by the parents side for every minute. And the parent gets to you know have a little bit of freedom and wander around within a certain parameter. So amazing stuff that’s happening because of the tech.

Katherine: And it sounds so simple doesn’t it. It’s a G.P.S. and an insole for a shoe! People talk about, well you can do that on an Apple Watch but not every older adult wants to wear those things. That’s not their generation and they’re they don’t want other people to be signaled either that they might be tracking these things.

Karen: That’s a great thing it’s in your shoe. Nobody sees it now. Yeah. So perfect solution. Yes.

Katherine: And you mentioned a couple solutions that outbreak.

Karen: There’s another one that’s kind of connected to. It’s called Safe wonder. Are you familiar with that one. It was designed by a Japanese boy boy who was 19 when he actually designed it. His grandfather had real bad dementia and so his family took shifts. They took three eight hour shifts each. He is sister and his mom and the grandfather would wander frequently. Well he designed a little button that fit onto the clothes and it was actually technology that anytime he would get out of a chair or get out of a bed it would go to a smartphone and would alert the phone. So again it gave that caregiver the freedom to you know what. Let grandpa do his thing. If he changes from where we sat sat him down to watch TV we’ll know and we can go check just to be sure he’s OK or if he’s laying down taking a nap and he starts to get up we can go check just to be sure he’s not wandering off. Actually that was I think that was maybe three years ago. It came out at 82 and Alzheimer’s. The Alzheimer’s Association adopted that as one of their products that they really felt was a high benefit for that that population with dementia.

Katherine: That is fantastic. And as you say it gives the care giver a little bit of breathing room because we can’t have eyes on them 24/7 even when you’re taking shifts and then we again will have more sessions on this and get into the caregiver burnout and manage caregiver burnout it is a very real thing. And if you haven’t done caregiving you may not quite understand the level of burnout that can happen and the impact on your mental health your physical health your emotional healthy relationships your work.

Karen: I think this all ties into some extent with changing the narrative because in the old days we didn’t have those skills so people if you got dementia you truly were dependent 24/7 around the clock on somebody.

As time goes by and our health spend grows and we’re able to point some solutions that help older people and their caregivers you know it gives them a little bit more independence. It gives the caregiver more independence and I think it changes our perspective of you know what suddenly older dementia and unable to do anything to you know it’s too able to be engage and connect on something’s maybe losing a little bit here on this road that could be gaining in other areas.

So I think that is changing the narrative of the kinds of solutions that about there and that we actually could find solutions that help everybody as we talk about changing the narrative and terminology we talked about that silver tsunami and maybe eliminating that from our vocabulary. You had mentioned to me also how we refer to them and I was there I sent them right. I’m. We don’t want it to be an us and them. How do we refer to the category of person who is 65 and older.

Right now we call them seniors we call them elders for the most part you know that’s part of what the frameworks Institute did. They did some amazing research and actually documented. They used six or seven different words they use senior elderly older person older adult. I mean again a wide array and they asked people for each category they gave me a list of words that would talk about their perception of what was that person like. Seniors and elderly ranked in terms of the frail elderly old kind of a person. So even though you might be a senior by a peace terms at 50 you didn’t actually mirror the the perception of what a senior. Was considered by those focus groups to be what they did find in that research was that older person an actually older adult was the best term that ranked the highest. So they really they changed the narrative tries to move away from using the word senior because again it implies such a negative connotation.

Katherine: So if you leave our audience with a couple of things, one would be specific terminology they can change. Silver tsunami should be talking instead about the increased longevity in our health span senior and elderly maybe can be replaced with older adults what other things would you like to leave our audience thinking about today?

Karen: I think one of the biggest things that the change in the narrative campaign is doing is trying to simply raise the level of awareness of the fact that we do look at older people in a different way. And the first thing you have to do to change behavior is to recognize. You know what. Maybe I am looking at them with different eyes. And once you start doing that internally then you have the chance to change so that it’s an awareness campaign to you know what. Take a close look at how you treat older people how you talk to older people and give it a second thought and think if there isn’t a better way to be treating all people no matter their age a more equal and just way.

Katherine: That’s great. Karen thank you so much for your time today we appreciate it. For our audience here we will have all of this information in the show notes with several links. And Karen we will certainly have you back on to talk about several of the other things that we know that we’re all challenging here in the aging community.


Mavericks of Senior Living is produced by Serenity App, Inc. and Assured Assisted Living. This episode was produced by Katherine Wells and Francis LeGasse. The musical artist is Jason Donnelly. You can subscribe to Mavericks for Senior Living on Apple Podcasts, Google Play or Stitcher. You can also find us on TwitterFacebook, or via email at challenges@mavericksofseniorliving.

Here’s where you can learn more about the people and ideas in this episode: