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Dana Perry poses for a portrait at Chambliss, Bahner, & Stophel, P.C., on Thursday, Aug. 13, 2015, in Chattanooga, Tenn. The law firm is LEED Gold certified.

If you go

The Embrace Aging Forum will be held at Embassy Suites at Hamilton Place on July 13 from 8:30 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. General admission is $40, with a discounted rate of $20 for adults age 55 and older as well as students. Registration includes a continental breakfast and a boxed lunch. Tickets and more information are available at www.embraceagingforum.com.

 

Aging is a part of life that should be embraced and celebrated, not feared or scorned, according to an influential aging expert who will highlight a forum next month in Chattanooga on aging.

Contrary to many media portrayals and beauty industry ads, people tend to be happiest in life in their childhood and in their senior years, studies show.

"You never hear the phrase pro-aging because you see "anti-aging" ads plastered everywhere," said Ashton Applewhite, the author and lecturer who was picked as Next Avenue's Aging Influencer of the Year last year. "But aging is living and it makes no more sense to be anti-aging than to be anti-breathing."

Applewhite, who is author of "This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism," will be among 15 speakers at an all-day conference on July 13 sponsored by the Chambliss law firm, AARP and a variety of local businesses.

Dana Perry, a certified elder law attorney who has been serving the aging population for over 25 years, said the forum is intended for individuals, families, caregivers and leading service providers to learn about estate planning, wellness and elder abuse. Perry hopes networking at the conference might spark fresh ideas among participants about new ventures and businesses targeted at the aging population.

"This is an exciting time to be a boomer, and Ashton Applewhite is at the forefront of changing the way we think about aging," said Perry. "Chattanooga has been ranked nationally many times as one of the top places to live and retire. By bringing someone of her caliber to Chattanooga along with the other panelists and experts, this forum will be an incredible eye-opening experience."

With more than 10,000 baby boomers retiring every day in the United States, the demographic landscape is changing, especially in Chattanooga where the median age is already nearly two years older than the national average. Chattanooga has been rated among the best cities to retire in by publications ranging from the financial newsletter Kiplinger, which highlighted the relatively low cost of living and taxes in Tennessee, to Southern Living magazine, which praised the amenities in the Scenic City.

Cleveland, Tenn., is also home to America's biggest privately held nursing home chain, Life Care Centers of America, and the region is also home to at least a half dozen other senior living development companies.

Chambliss has assembled an array of sponsors for the aging forum, including the Southeast Tennessee Area Agency on Aging and Disability, CHI Memorial Center for Healthy Aging, Southeastern Trust Company, Evergreen Advisors, Hospice of Chattanooga and WTCI-TV Tennessee Valley PBS. AARP, a national resource for individuals age 50 and older, is actively investing in the Chattanooga area and is one of the sponsors of the conference.

"One in three Americans is now 50 or older and by 2030, one in five will be 65 years or older," said Tracy Mathews, AARP's associate state director for Tennessee. "The need for guidance of how to make the transition into retirement has never been greater."

Applewhite said she became interested in researching seniors and aging trends as she began to think about her own retirement and was afraid of getting old. She quickly learned much of what she thought was true about aging is not.

The share of persons over age 65 in nursing homes is only 4 percent and that share continues to decline. The share of Americans with Alzheimer's disease is only 2 percent.

"The real epidemic is anxiety over memory loss, and we blame things on aging that often occur just as much or more in younger people," she said.

Although Hollywood and Madison Avenue often portray older people as grumpy or depressed, Applewhite said studies indicate older people, on average, have better mental health than young or middle-aged persons.

"Aging is not a problem to be 'fixed' or a disease to be 'cured,'" she said. "It is a natural, powerful and lifelong process that unites us all and should be a source of pride — not of shame. That's why we need a grassroots movement to make discrimination on the basis of age as unacceptable as any other form of prejudice."

For seniors, Applewhite urges them to stop making "senior moment" jokes and rejecting the thought that they should simply "shuffle offstage." For employers, the aging activist urges businesses to be more open to respecting people's experience as a resource and as a vital component of diversity. And for young people, she discourages children from trying to coddle or degrade their parents or others who happen to be older.

"Everyone — all races, all genders, all nationalities — is old or future old," she said.

Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6340.

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