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How We Chose the Influencers in Aging

What does it take to become a Next Avenue Influencer in Aging?

Tireless work, passion and an unspoken but shared mission to unleash the potential power of older people. This group of influencers is at the forefront of changing how we age and think about aging as they further innovation and knowledge in their respective fields.

In a world that is rife with ageism, this work is not easy. But these advocates, researchers, thought leaders, groundbreakers, writers, experts and others continue to push beyond traditional boundaries and change our cultural notions of what it means to grow older. We at Next Avenue hope to shine a spotlight on them and showcase their influence in the world through our annual Influencers in Aging list.

The list includes 10 honorees in each of the five areas Next Avenue covers: Health & Well-BeingCaregivingMoney & SecurityWork & Purpose and Living & Learning. One honoree, whose impact was especially profound this year, was named 2016 Influencer of the Year. That distinction goes to Ashton Applewhite, whose work in fighting against ageism and questioning stereotypes about growing older is showcased in her blog and book, This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism.

Through recognizing those making a difference in how we live as we grow older, we hope to spark conversation, engage in new ideas and motivate people from all walks of life to become involved in this important work. Join us on Twitter and Facebook to discuss the Next Avenue 2016 Influencers in Aging list.

Choosing the Influencers in Aging

Selecting just 50 people for the list always proves to be a challenge. This year, we asked for nominations from our Next Avenue readers as well as from our editors and contributors. We searched for a diverse and broad list of people whose work to improve the lives of older adults in the areas of health, money, work, living and caregiving was especially impressive over the past year.

Next, we assembled an advisory panel with experts in health, housing, work, media, philanthropy and gerontology.  We considered hundreds of Influencer candidates and asked our advisers to suggest additional names and to assess which potential nominees have had the greatest impact in their fields, especially in 2016. Through this process, we narrowed the list of nominees to 50, selecting 10 individuals in each of the five topic areas.

We realize that many people doing great work are not included on this year’s list. We will continue to gather those names for next year’s list and will invite our readers to nominate candidates for the 2017 Influencers in Aging list, too.

We’d like to offer special thanks to this year’s advisory panel for helping Next Avenue recognize those working to improve the lives of older adults and prospects for all of us as we grow older. The members of our panel, some of whom were 2015 Influencers in Aging and many of whom could be future Influencers, are as follows:

The 2016 Influencers in Aging Advisory Panel

Jennie Chin Hansen

Chinn Hansen
Chin Hansen

Chin Hansen, one of the 50 Next Avenue Influencers in Aging in 2015, is senior strategic adviser and immediate past CEO of the American Geriatrics Society, the largest interprofessional membership organization of geriatricians, nurse practitioners and other health professionals committed to the care of older adults with care complexity. In May 2010, she completed her two-year term as president of the 38 million-member AARP during the heated period before the passage of the Affordable Care Act. Her prior service includes nearly 25 years with On Lok, a nonprofit family of organizations providing integrated, globally financed and comprehensive medical and community-based services for frail older people in San Francisco. On Lok’s groundbreaking global payment, integrated and coordinated service delivery system became the prototype for the 1997 federal law that incorporated the Program of All Inclusive Care to the Elderly (PACE) into the Medicare and Medicaid programs. PACE now operates in more than 32 states. In 2011, Hansen completed her term as a federal commissioner of the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC).

She serves as a board member of The SCAN Foundation, Institute for Healthcare Improvement, the Dignity Health System, The SCAN HealthPlan and most recently, The Altarum Institute. She also serves on the National Quality Forum and National Committee on Quality Assurance relative to quality measures. In addition, she is on the national Veteran’s Administration Advisory Committee on Gerontology and Geriatrics. She has been awarded multiple national and academic honors and is a nursing graduate of Boston College and the University of California, San Francisco.

Vickie Elisa


Elisa, also a 2015 Influencer in Aging, is president of Mothers’ Voices Georgia and an Emmy, Addy and Telly award-winning health communication producer. She has been honored for creating a realistic economic empowerment program called Smart Women & Money that has reached more than 150,000 women nationally and internationally. The program has been honored by Redbook magazine and the Freddie Mac Foundation as a Community Best Practice.

In 2015, Elisa was asked to introduce the President of the United States at the 10th Annual White House Conference on Aging. She has served on Congressional panels and at national and international conferences as a community advocate focused on economic equity and retirement solutions for women.

Marc Freedman


Marc Freedman, a 2015 Influencer in Aging, is founder and CEO of Encore.org. He is an award-winning social innovator, author and leading expert on the longevity revolution and the transformation of retirement. Freedman is also a member of The Wall Street Journal’s Experts panel, a regular contributor to the Harvard Business Review and the author of four books, including most recently, The Big Shift: Navigating the New Stage Beyond Midlife. Freedman has won awards and recognition from Mentoring.org, The Skoll Foundation, The World Economic Forum and The Schwab Foundation. Fast Company magazine named him one of the nation’s leading social entrepreneurs three years in a row. Freedman is the co-founder of Experience Corps and a creator of The Purpose Prize, both programs now operated by AARP.  A high honors graduate of Swarthmore College, Freedman holds an M.B.A. from the Yale School of Management.

James Firman


The president and CEO of the National Council on Aging (NCOA) for the past 20 years and a 2015 Influencer in Aging, Firman has championed older Americans for three decades. At NCOA, he has helped develop a variety of programs to improve the health, independence and economic security of older adults, including the website Benefits CheckUp, which has helped more than 5 million people find over $16 billion in benefits.

Before joining NCOA, Firman was founder and CEO of the United Seniors Health Cooperative, a nonprofit consumer group, and helped develop federal Medigap legislation and long-term care insurance regulations. Firman has been named one of The Nonprofit Times Top 50 leaders multiple times.

Dr. Linda P. Fried


Fried, a Next Avenue 2015 Influencer in Aging, is the dean at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health where she is appointed as DeLamar Professor of Public Health and Professor of Epidemiology, as well as professor of medicine at The College of Physicians and Surgeons and senior vice president of the Columbia University Medical Center. Prior to joining Columbia University in 2008,  Fried served as the Mason F. Lord Professor of Geriatric Medicine and director of the division of geriatric medicine and gerontology and The Center on Aging and Health at The Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions.

A geriatrician and epidemiologist, Fried has dedicated her career to the science of healthy aging, particularly the science of frailty and disability, and has led the scientific discoveries for the definition and causes of frailty. She is also the co-founder of Experience Corps, a social, community-based model for older adults embedded in a program of senior service in public elementary schools to improve the academic success of the children. Fried is the recipient of numerous honors and awards, including the National Institute of Aging MERIT Award, the U.S. National Bridge Builders Award, the Alliance for Aging Research’s 2011 Silver Innovator, the 2012 Silver Scholar Awards and the 2012 Longevity Prize of the Foundation IPSEN. She also has been named a “Living Legend in Medicine” by the U.S. Congress. In 2014, Thomson-Reuters named her among the top 1 percent most influential scientific minds of the past decade. Fried is an elected member of the National Academy of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences and the 2016-2017 President of the Association of American Physicians. She is a member of the World Economic Forum Global Agenda Council on an Aging World and the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on an Aging Society.

Fried is a board-certified internist and geriatrician, with postdoctoral training at the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions in geriatrics, general internal medicine and epidemiology (cardiovascular and aging). She received her MD from Rush Medical College and MPH from the Johns Hopkins University School of Hygiene and Public Health.

Gay Powell Hanna

Gay Powell Hanna

Hanna is an arts administration leader with 30 years management experience in the arts, education and health-related program services. She is executive director of the National Center for Creative Aging, an affiliate of George Washington University. Hanna served as the executive director of the Society for the Arts in Health from 2003 through May 2007. Through faculty positions at Florida State University and the University of South Florida from 1987 to 2003, she directed VSA Arts of Florida, an affiliate of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, providing arts education programs for people with disabilities, including ones with chronic illness. In 2001, she established the Florida Center for Creative Aging at the Florida Policy Exchange Center on Aging at the University of South Florida to address quality of life issues.

Kerry Hannon

Kerry Hannon

Hannon, a Next Avenue blogger on personal finances and careers, is a nationally recognized expert on career transitions, money and retirement, especially for older women. She is a frequent TV and radio commentator and a sought-after keynote speaker at conferences across the country. Hannon is also a columnist and regular contributor to The New York Times, a contributing writer for Money magazine, AARP’s Jobs Expert and Great Jobs columnist and contributing editor and Second Verse columnist at Forbes. TIAA recently named Hannon the financial service firm’s 2016 Women and Retirement expert.

Hannon  is the author of 10 books, including Getting the Job You Want After 50, What’s Next? Finding Your Passion and Your Dream Job in Your Forties, Fifties and Beyond and the national bestseller Great Jobs for Everyone 50+: Finding Work That Keeps You Happy and Healthy . . . And Pays the Bills.

Ai-Jen Poo

Ai Jen Poo

In her recent bestseller, The Age of Dignity: Preparing for the Elder Boom in a Changing America, labor activist Poo (a 2015 Influencer in Aging) argues for putting a higher premium on caregiving and improving the prospects for those who provide paid care. While home care is one of the fastest growing occupations, Poo believes, it is not keeping pace with the need — with more than 10,000 Americans turning 65 each day. America’s 3 million paid caregivers often work long hours for low pay with few benefits and protections for their own families.

Poo has been instrumental in persuading the U.S. Labor Department to extend wage and overtime protections to domestic workers. Through the Caring Across Generations campaign, she is bringing together older adults and professional caregivers to promote shared policy interests. She is a MacArthur Fellow and Director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance.

Lester Strong

Lester Strong

Vice president of AARP Foundation Experience Corps and External Affairs and a 2015 Influencer in Aging, Strong leads an impressive program of adults 50 and older tutoring children in disadvantaged public schools, from kindergarten through third grade, who struggle to read. AARP Foundation Experience Corps, which began in 1995, is widely regarded as one of the nation’s top service programs; 93 percent of teachers with students in the program said their pupils’ reading and literary performance improved under the guidance of AARP Foundation Experience Corps. Currently, roughly 2,200 Experience Corps volunteers assist more than 31,000 students. The program enjoys an 85 percent retention rate among its volunteers.

Strong serves on the board of Encore.org and on the federal advisory council of The Presidio Trust. Previously, he was chief development officer for the BELL (Building Educated Leaders for Life) Foundation, tutoring and mentoring underserved children; as well as a television executive; public affairs show host; news anchor and reporter.


By Shayla Stern
Shayla leads the editorial team and content strategy as the Director of Editorial and Content for Next Avenue at Twin Cities PBS. She has spent a career in digital media journalism and digital strategy at organizations including washingtonpost.comEdmunds.comCars.com and Fast Horse, and worked as a consultant for several years. She also was a media professor at the University of Minnesota and DePaul University and  has a Ph.D. in Mass Communication. She can be reached at [email protected].@shayla_stern

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