MANSFIELD - Some people dread getting older, treating birthdays as simply marking the fact that their age is creeping upwards. Teresa Cook celebrates aging.
"The opposite of aging is not a good thing," she said with a laugh. "Life is precious, and so is staying healthy and having that good quality of life."
Such is the goal of the Positive Aging Expo, an annual event hosted Thursday by the Area Agency on Aging, where Cook serves as chief of marketing and development.
According to Cook, the Positive Aging Expo is all about connecting the aging population with resources to continue enjoying a high quality of life.
"The good news is we're all getting older, and we all want to age positively," she said. "That's part of the expo, giving people ideas and suggestions of positive ways to age."
Each year, the Expo showcases local businesses and organizations available to seniors and caregivers. These vendors bring booths, food, games, giveaways, and information about their unique services, giving guests the opportunity to learn about the countless resources available to them in Ohio’s aging network.
This year's theme for the Expo was baseball, showcased by vendor games and giveaways, seniors in baseball jerseys and caps, and the Agency passing out Cracker Jack and cotton candy.
"It's giving people options for different things they might not know about," Cook said. "Plus we're doing grip tests for driving, checking blood pressure and oxygen levels, hearing tests, and voting machine demonstrations."
To be certain, staying healthy while aging is not always an easy task. For example, Cook noted that she hears complaints about tiring of cooking after so many years, but the importance of doing so is not to be understated.
"You need to look at healthy eating just like a prescription for blood pressure or cholesterol," Cook said. "Eating healthy is part of living longer - think of it as your daily vitamin."
Additionally, the Area Agency is partnering with the Richland County Sheriff’s Office to collect non-perishable food items for the local Domestic Violence Shelter. Guests who brought a donation to the Expo had the chance to win a special door prize.
"It's always been part of the expo that if you bring a canned good, you get an extra ticket in the door prize drawing," Cook said. "This year the Sheriff's department came to us and said the Domestic Violence Shelter's pantry is empty. We can help with that."
According to Cook, the Positive Aging Expo draws about 400 senior citizens from the Agency's nine-county area. On Thursday, buses from Seneca and Knox counties shuttled attendees to the Richland County Fairgrounds location. Attendance numbers increase steadily each year, Cook said.
Most importantly, the Positive Aging Expo gives the Area Agency on Aging a portrait of what aging is like in Richland County today. Cook said while today's seniors favor activities like BINGO, the future generation of aging might instead favor biking on the B&O Bike Trail.
"That's what the Area Agency tries to look at," Cook said. "Looking back is really important, but looking out five, 10 or 20 years is, too. It's changing, the way my generation is aging compared to our parents.
"We're looking at aging differently, from health tests and so much technology that can help us whether medical or staying active, or staying in our home," she continued. "People are going to continue to age, but the variable - that, we have a lot of control over."