I first met Nader Shabahangi at a book presentation in Marin County on Conversations with Ed, Waiting for Forgetfulness: Why are We So Afraid of Alzheimer’s Disease?, a book he had just published with Patrick Fox and Ed Voris. Ed, who spoke eloquently at the presentation, and whose contributions to the book were profound, is afflicted with Alzheimers. I was moved to find that Ed Voris was not shut away with his affliction, but out in the world co-authoring a book and participating in book presentations.
From a subsequent interview with the three authors, I discovered they had a different view of memory loss than the view held by most Americans. They view dementia as a part of a person, but not the whole person, that sometimes having memory loss can be beneficial, and that people with forgetfulness (a term preferred by AgeSong), and older people in general, have much to offer the world. Ed Voris earned a Bachelor degree in Business Administration and a Bachelor of Divinity. He worked in the construction industry.. Nader Shabahangi is a licensed psychotherapist and CEO of AgeSong Assisted Living and Elder Communities throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. Patrick Fox is a professor of Medical Sociology and Health Policy, Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences, and Co-Director, Institute for Health & Aging, at the University of California, San Francisco.
Shortly before the book event, in early 2010, I had just completed a facilitator certification in End-of-Life Planning. My cousin, who was just a few years older than me, in his sixties, had just died, and I had taken the training to better cope with this personal loss. My then 15 years of experience as a career and life transitions counselor began shifting to an interest in later life transitions. In winter-spring of 2010, directly after the End-of-Life Planning training, I took another training in counseling individuals in job loss recovery. Job loss, like other losses, is a challenge of workers in general, but especially difficulty for aging boomers on up. In the fall of 2010, I took a training as an Activity Coordinator for assisted living communities, and in the spring of 2011, I took another training, conducting exercises for adults with disabilities and frail elderly. During the process of taking all these trainings, I had an opportunity to facilitate activities in several Bay area elder communities. AgeSong, a cluster of six elder communities run by Nader Shabahangi, stood out from all the other elder communities because of its unique, non-medical driven model of eldercare.
In early 2011, Nader, with the support of the AgeSong communities, put together an advisory committee to plan a conference on the Poetics of Aging. He invited me to serve on the committee. The mission of the conference was to change the mainstream view of aging as sickness and decline to one of expansion and growth. By July, I was asked to chair the conference. Four months later, with the assistance of an outstanding group of speakers, volunteers, and 50 collaborating organizations, including Stanford, UCSF, UC Berkeley, and other universities and organizations devoted to aging issues throughout the Bay area, nationwide, and even worldwide, we produced a hugely successful conference. Famous poets, dancers, theater performers, and other artists came out of the woodwork to celebrate creative aging with healthcare professionals, students, and community members. It was a significant intergenerational coming together – our youngest contributor to the conference was 16 and our oldest was 97.
I continue to be drawn to Nader’s unique vision of aging as something to look forward to, not dread, and to the AgeSong staff’s commitment to applying this concept within the eldercare communities, with the families of residents, throughout the Bay area, and even throughout the world. With several decades of experience as an author, editor, information officer, counselor, event planner, educator, and as an activist in empowering under-represented populations, such as elders, I am motivated to support Nader’s vision and to promote the wonderful activities and people (residents, staff, contractors, volunteers, students) in the AgeSong communities.
Dr. Sally Gelardin, AgeSong Today Journalist