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AARP, a Chicken Coop, and Memory Cafés Thumbnail

AARP, a Chicken Coop, and Memory Cafés

By Nancy Miller Herbert

Well, it happened.  I joined AARP.

I joined to take advantage of their travel discounts and now that I’m in, I also want to track (and support) their lobbying efforts in Washington, DC.  It all started when I found myself shaking my head to see a disclaimer on the AARP website that trumpets (in large red letters) “MYTH: AARP is liberal and supports Democrats.” 

Isn’t it astonishing that AARP – a nonprofit and nonpartisan organization – felt the need to post such a clarification on their website

AARP is non-partisan – it neither endorses nor contributes to candidates – and "has a long record of making sure that elected officials from both parties address the issues that matter to all Americans age 50-plus, including protecting Social Security and Medicare." (emphasis added) 

AARP’s advocacy must have touched a nerve among some conservative slice of their 38 million members, despite those very same members being benefitted by AARP's laudable efforts to: 

  • Protect Social Security and Medicare 
  • Lower prescription drug prices 
  • Protect elders from fraud 
  • Guarantee health insurance to those with preexisting conditions 
  • Expand and protect pensions (to name just a few) 

These powerful initiatives serve all constituencies – including the conservative complainers.  

Maybe the non-Dems would rather live in a chicken coop?

Under the website’s History section is the profoundly sad story about why AARP was created in 1958 by Dr. Ethel Percy Andrus – a retired public-school teacher and principal (bless that woman).  

In 1944, she checked on a former teacher who was ill, and found her living in a chicken coop!  Yes, you read that correctly – a chicken coop – because that was all she could afford on her small teacher’s pension. 

Dr. Andrus was so shocked she created the National Retired Teachers Association (NRTA) to secure affordable group health insurance for all teachers.  She expanded the coverage by creating the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), whose annual membership at the time was an affordable $2 per household (I paid $16 for my membership).  All Americans 55 and older could join and gain access to the NRTA / AARP insurance benefits.  Remember, Medicare was not enacted until 1965 (a full 20 years after Democratic President Harry Truman first proposed it), so up till then there was no societal guarantee of healthcare for seniors.  These things benefit ALL our elders... but if they want to label it “liberal” or “Democrat”, we’ll happily take the credit. 

Memory Cafés

Stepping off my soapbox, I want to point readers toward a wonderful resource under AARP’s Caregiving page.  It’s a heartwarming article titled, Memory Cafés Offer Social Activities for Those Living With Dementia, and it explains the Memory Cafés history and provides resources to find your own local Memory Café.  

Started by a Dutch psychiatrist in the 1990s, the Cafés were meant to be gathering spots for patients with dementia and their caregivers to meet in supportive and social conditions outside of a home or medical setting.  There are Cafés in the US, Armenia, Australia, Brazil, Canada, the UAE, and the UK.  During the COVID pandemic, virtual Cafés went online; here is the link to Café Connect.

Some Cafés have themes like swing dance, toys & games a senior might have played with as a child, holiday celebrations, sing-alongs, and outings to farms – all meant to stir memories and tap into the five senses.  Apparently, everyone has so much fun that someone walking into the Café might not be able to tell who actually has dementia!

The Common Good

I’m impressed by AARP.  I really had no idea of the breadth and depth of their work until I spent an hour reading through their website.  We need advocates like them who will work tirelessly for the common and greater good – however mistakenly the conservatives label it.  

And really, I’d prefer to not live in a chicken coop – thank you, AARP (and thank you, Democrats)! 

Nancy Miller Herbert is Newground's Director of Operations.

Note:  This material is intended for educational purposes only.  As with all our public writing, blog posts do not constitute tax or financial planning advice; likewise, they are neither an offer to sell nor solicitation to buy any investment or security.