Dr. Fernando Torres-Gil is no stranger to adversity. He welcomes it.
Torres-Gil remembers growing up in public housing in Salinas, CA. where his mom, a single mother, raised nine children. At six months, he contracted polio — mere months before the vaccine was developed. The disease left him paralyzed, without the use of his legs.
After spending ages 2-16 in hospitals, Torres-Gil regained his ability to walk with assistance, thanks to the support of a team of doctors and caretakers. He credits his experiences for shaping his interest in healthcare and disability.
Today, Torres-Gil is one of the nation’s leading experts on aging, having served three presidential administrations. He sits on the board of the AARP Foundation. He teaches at University of California, Los Angeles and University of Southern California. And he also directs the UCLA Center for Policy Research on Aging.
On Saturday, Torres-Gil was a featured speaker at the 2018 Aging Well Conference at Reynolds High School. The annual event, part of the Portland & Multnomah County Age-Friendly Initiative, featured a day’s worth of workshops, with topics ranging from movement meditation to civic engagement. It also included remarks from Reynolds School District Superintendent Dr. Danna Diaz, Portland City Commissioner Nick Fish, and Multnomah County Commissioner Sharon Meieran.
The goal of the conference is to share knowledge on successful aging with older adults and the people who serve them. Torres-Gil, who’s experienced plenty of obstacles, had one key message: the secret to healthy aging is the ability to overcome adversity.
“However we age, and whatever the circumstances, ‘Aging Well’ is about resilience,” Torres-Gil said. “All of us at some point will face adversity. Our message is about how we get through life in a way that, whatever occurs, we can still have a positive attitude and enjoy the great gift of our longevity.”
In the next 30 years, Torres-Gil said, the number of adults over the age of 65 is expected to double. In that same timespan, the United States is expected to become a majority-minority country, with ethnic minorities making up the majority of the population.
And with life expectancies rising, Torres-Gil said that it’s important for Americans to consider how to age successfully, and in a way that makes them excited to grow older.
“I am aging with a disability, which means I’ve had a lifetime now to practice what it means to grow older with a disability,” he said. “I’m now 70 years of age, and I can honestly say, having lived my life with a disability, I’ve never felt better or healthier.”
Event-goer shares his own secret to “Aging Well”
Rufino Calderin and his wife, Graciela Vasquez, were in the audience listening to Dr. Torres-Gil. They learned about the event from their community center and decided to visit some of the workshops.
Calderin and Vasquez are both Cuban natives. As Latinxs, their demographic enjoys the highest life expectancy of all other demographic groups in the United States. Researchers call it the “Hispanic/Latino paradox” because, despite being more likely to experience socioeconomic obstacles, Hispanic and Latinx people have stronger health outcomes.
Experts haven’t developed a single reason why Latinxs have the highest life expectancy. But cultural factors, such as strong social networks, are said to have an influence.
At 73, Calderin said he’s thinking about living past 100. He and his wife are both interested in doing whatever they can to extend their quality of life. He attributes his resilience to his workout routine and his strong family ties.
“‘Aging Well’ to me means exercising as much as I can, helping other people, and maintaining relationships,” he said through an interpreter. “I have three daughters: one in Miami and two in Portland. Family is the primary reason why I’m so healthy today.”
Local providers host resource fair
The event also included a resource fair with more than 30 vendor tables operated by staff from local agencies and nonprofits, including several of the County’s culturally-specific partners, El Programa Hispano Católico, Latino Network, and Urban League.
Josh Davis, a Veterans’ Services Officer for the County’s Aging, Disability and Veterans’ Services Division, was at the resource fair. Davis and his teammates regularly travel to community events to do outreach with local veterans.
He said the program fills a critical need for all veterans, including older veterans, who might not be aware of the benefits they’re entitled to because of their military service.
“I got injured in the military, and I wasn’t done yet,” said Davis, who is a combat veteran who became disabled during his service. “I struggled for a really long time because I wasn’t done serving. By being able to serve other veterans in the community, for me it’s like being back in the military and serving alongside other service members.”
Davis said older veterans have unique needs. As veterans age and retire, he said, they often become eligible for benefits that previously weren’t available to them. For older adults who have served, he has some simple advice: schedule a check in with the Veterans’ Services program.
“Call and schedule a 30-minute benefits check up appointment,” he said. “The process is really simple. A Veterans’ Services Officer will look at their history and see what they might be eligible for.”
To learn more about the 30+ partners at the Aging Well conference, visit the vendor webpage. To connect with these organizations or learn more about available resources, visit www.adrcoforegon.org or call (503)988-3646.