The long-term care convention that's sure to entertain

James M. Berklan
James M. Berklan

I'm not sure what I'll be most looking forward to on an upcoming business trip — coloring in the the giant coloring book, the Gasoline Alley pub on the convention floor, the wheelchair-assembly service project or the Halloween costume contest. Or any number of other wrinkles and delights. 

But I DO know one thing: I'm going to enjoy the LeadingAge annual meeting and convention in Indianapolis in October.

As the saying goes, if you've seen one LeadingAge convention ... you've seen one LeadingAge convention. 

Each year, the creative minds behind it seem to compete to outdo themselves, pushing to make the experience ever more worthwhile for attendees — and the public.

"When you have a meeting of 8,000 people, the secret is to have something for everyone to do," explained Sharon Sullivan to me Wednesday. She is the logistical mastermind behind this nation's-largest long-term care convention.

The LeadingAge vice president books sites 10 years in advance, figuring out how to import and entertain a small city each year, relying heavily on an energetic creative team to keep us wondering "What next?!"

This year is no exception. The LeadingAge Annual Meeting & Expo takes place October 30-November 2 in Indianapolis. Yes, Indianapolis — the home of the Indy 500 and numerous other big-time sporting and cultural events that offers more than you realize, even before Sullivan's circus hits town.

That's "circus" with a respectful "c" as in colorful and consequential.

Take, for example, the "Tackling Ageism" exhibit at a tailgate party adjacent the convention center. It will be very near Lucas Oil Stadium, where the NFL's Colts will host The Kansas City Chief on October 30. Expanding on an idea from previous conventions, thousands of "regular" citizens will be exposed to a gigantic coloring book on Georgia Street. It will invite them to use and color positive words on aging and remain up all week.

"It's a different way to do what we started in Nashville three years ago," Sullivan said. "We want to evolve thoughts on aging in the public. It's the first time we're taking it to a new level." 

There also will be engaging activities a bit lower key. The massive Alzheimer's Association pavilion will feature "The Brains Behind Saving Yours." There will be TED-like talks, technology to help caregivers and a "Conversation Pit," one of a few things playing off the famous Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Another will be the "Gasoline Alley" pub, which will be located on the actual convention floor. Last year's debut pub in Boston was called "Cheers" and was a rousing success.

No, I am not making up this stuff.

Another very cool experiential exhibit is based on this fantastically well done AARP "Redefine Aging" video clip. (This is one time I truly encourage you to interrupt your reading of something I have written to watch a fascinating 4-minute video.) 

Attendees at a "Sharing What You Know" booth will walk up to a giant book and open it to find a millennial and an older resident teaching one another a special task. This will be beamed in via FaceTime from a LeadingAge member facility where "on-call" pairs of participants will be taking part in real time.

The kicker is the conference attendee will then teach the pair a simple task. It's all part of a Community" sub-theme.

Another first-time event will be the one with perhaps the most heart — a massive service project. On Sunday, attendees will assemble donated wheelchair parts into new units for needy people around Indianapolis. The plan is for teams of six to build dozens of wheelchairs. Let's hope it's many, many dozen.

And then there's the Halloween-themed activities. No, not the lame ones you might come to expect.

First, there will be a Skype booth so parents can see and talk with their goblins, ghouls, princesses and pirates back home.

Second, organizers are giving attendees trick-or-treat bags. They're also encouraging exhibitors to bring fun giveaways for kids to fill the bags.

Third, a best-costume contest will take place for attendees' kids. Video monitors throughout the convention will show submitted photos throughout the convention. Voting will take place all week via a specially designated FaceBook page. The child with the most "likes" will receive an Xbox One, Microsoft's popular new home video game console. (LeadingAge will soon announce how to submit photos.)

"It's not that we don't 'get it'," Sullivan said about scheduling the convention during Halloween, which has become more popular than ever in recent years. "We protect and don't book on certain days, like Election Day and [the Jewish holiday] Sukkot. But when we booked these dates, Halloween wasn't on the list. Now it is. We shouldn't have this situation again after next year."

In the meantime, the special Halloween touches this year epitomize the strategy Sullivan and her team seem to continually pursue.

"We're saying, 'Let's have fun with it."

Works for me.

Follow James M. Berklan @JimBerklan.

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McKnight's Daily Editors' Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news and issues. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor, Editor James M. Berklan, Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman and Staff Writer Emily Mongan.

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