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November 23, 2014

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Growing old(er) gracefully: What to see at the AARP convention

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Christopher DeVargas

Conventioneers fill the exhibit hall during the 2013 AARP Convention on Thursday, May 30, 2013.

This is my future as an aging baby boomer, if the AARP’s “Life@50+” gathering at the Las Vegas Convention Center through Saturday is any indicator.

I will be going on cruises (or maybe Amtrak tours). I will turn my savings over to financial planners while at the same time learning how to be a smart coupon collector. I will use simpler cellphones and attend conventions like this one where I can stand in line to win such things as light-up magnifiers, crank-powered flashlights and hand sanitizer dispensers.

One booth invited me to sign up for a computerized dating service for old folks. No, you can’t use someone else’s photo.

I was perplexed by the mix of vendors at adjoining booths: vacuum cleaners, walk-in therapeutic bathtubs, pillows and mattresses.

At a jewelry and accessories booth, they were selling a small phone fashioned after a toilet. You lift the lid to dial your number — and I guess that sounds like something an older person would buy to show off to golfing buddies.

Based on what I saw along the medical aisles, it looks like I should prepare for diabetes, hearing loss and weight gain. I passed on the booth offering hospice care information, but the reality of the demographic at this convention struck home when I saw a medic team walking the exhibition hall with a portable defibrillator.

I found some booths worth exploring.

    • Shredded Wheat

      The freebies here were little cups filled with miniature Post Shredded Wheat biscuits. Good for your heart, good for your blood pressure. People were lining up for samples at a bar, which offered skim milk and various toppings. I complained that at home, my Shredded Wheat gets soggy too fast. “Eat them faster,” the woman said. “Some people like the softer consistency. And some people like warming them with milk in a microwave.” I looked around for a Pop-Tart booth. No luck.

    • Nicaragua

      So this is the booth giving away the straw hats everyone’s wearing. Or maybe it was crowded because of the beautiful young lady behind the counter who, it turns out, was 2012 Miss Nicaragua, Farah Eslaquit. Why was the Nicaragua Tourism Board attending the AARP convention? “Many people love Nicaragua as a place for a second home or as a retirement destination,” Catalina Gordon said. “They love us for our culture, history and adventure. The New York Times named us the best place to retire last year.”

    • Safe driving

      Pulling into the convention center’s parking lot, I watched an elderly driver almost run down a pedestrian in a crosswalk even as a crossing guard was waving a stop sign. So I was glad to meet Julie Lee, national director of AARP’s Driver Safety Program, which last year provided brush-up driving courses to more than 500,000 people. What kind of driving issues confound older motorists? Night driving, rush-hour driving and turning left against oncoming traffic. “We tell people that rather than turn left, make three right turns,” Lee said. The swag at this booth: flashlights, bags and piggy banks, depending on how lucky you rolled the dice.

    • Technology

      Dell, the computer people, drew people to their booth with a pair of go-cart-size Formula One race car simulators. Bob Scheuerell, a retired postmaster who drove up from Buckeye, Ariz., for the AARP convention, could hardly wait to be fitted into the cockpit and take it for a simulated spin. He was giddy. “So far this is the most fun I’ve had,” he said. More fun than the Shredded Wheat booth.

    • Cup caddy

      Joshua Millstein, a biomedical researcher and professor at the University of Southern California, is fascinated by physics and has patented what he calls the SpillNot. You can place a cup of tea or coffee on it and walk around all day long and not spill a drop. This is because you’re not holding the cup but rather a webbed loop of lace attached to the plate’s handle. The design effectively dampens the lateral velocity of the cup when you walk, so it won’t slosh. A woman with tremors bought four during my interview with Millstein. It will probably work for a bowl of Shredded Wheat, too.

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