chevron-down Created with Sketch Beta.
November 29, 2023

The Evolution of Aging

David Godfrey

November 2023 Directors Column

There have been rumors going around for months that I am going to retire. I started some of them, and the rumors are true.  I will retire from the staff of the ABA on January 5th. I joined the team of the ABA Commission on Law and Aging 15 years ago. My entire legal career has been in law and aging. Working at the ABA has been the highlight of my professional life.

Erica Costello will be the next director of the ABA Commission on Law and Aging.  Erica has been with us two-years, and has an extensive background in APS, adult abuse, and guardianship reform.

It is time for me to move on.  As M.T. Connolly reminds us in her book, “The Measure of Our Age”, life expectancy is typically 6 to 8 years longer than good health expectancy and there are things I want to do while still in good health. I am older than most people think I am. As my good friend Omar Valverde and I agreed when he retired from ACL, it is better to leave while they are saying “so soon” than to wait until they are saying “finally.”

Just as the older adults of today are different than our parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents, our understanding of aging and the issues has evolved. We have made major strides in understanding decision making, and advance care planning. Retirement income security is evolving as the 401k generation ages into retirement. Over the past 25 years, Medicare has evolved with prescription drug coverage being added, and Medicare Advantage plans now covering more than half of Medicare enrollees. The evolving medical science on dementia has made researchers optimistic in ways I have not seen before. Not all of the changes have been for the better. There are hurdles to access payment for health care, and a bias for institutional care over home care. There is work to be done on reforming or replacing guardianship, stopping the scourge of abuse. That work will shape the evolution of the field over the coming decade.

This work has been an adventure. I have continued to learn and share.  I long ago lost track of trainings and publications that I have created. I hope that some of the attendees have enjoyed my, at times irreverent training style as much as I have enjoyed speaking to thousands of professionals across the country. I hope that the articles I have written have inspired change and evolution of the field. I have been to all 50 states, nearly all of them for work.

There are a few people I need to thank. Charlie Sabatino, who was director for 13 of the 15 years I have been with the Commission for hiring me and empowering me to go forth and do good work. Erica Wood and Dari Pogach for allowing me to meddle in guardianship from time to time and for helping me to understand how we all practice supported decision making. Professor Pam Teaster, who I collaborated with during her time at the University of Kentucky, and here at the Commission on Law and Aging. The dozens of Commissioners, Advisors, and Liaisons that I have had the pleasure of working with. I could go on for pages and still miss people.  Special thanks to everyone who has read, listened, and asked questions. A secret: trainers often learn more from the questions that are asked than they do from preparing for a training.  Don’t be shy, ask good questions.

In my first director’s column I described myself as a bridge between the deep legacy of the Commission and the future.  Erica Costello and Beth Russo have been a huge help over the past year, as we set in place a transition to the future, and the Commission will continue to evolve. Just as I came here 15 years ago, as a new voice, with new ideas, the Commission on Law and Aging will continue to evolve and move forward with new ideas and new voices.

So, what is ahead for me? A few more weeks of implementing the transition plan and one more BIFOCAL directors’ column to write for January. I read something recently that recommended if your work has been a major part of your life for decades, you should create a “job description” when you retire.  I have done so. I will maintain my ABA membership, and my law license. There are a couple of ABA Commissions or Standing Committees I will nominate myself for. (We will put the nomination link out on Elderbar and include it in the January edition of Bifocal. Nominations usually open in December and close around the first of February.) I plan to do some writing and I’d like to do more policy work. I have plans for some travel, including a month-long trip that has been long delayed.  I am becoming more involved in my community. I am a passionate photographer and there are some local landmarks I want to document because it should be done, and I will now have the time to do so.  I look forward to evolving into the next chapter of my life.

David Godfrey, JD

Director, ABA Commission on Law and Aging