May marks the 60th anniversary of Older Americans Month. In a proclamation from President Joe Biden this week, he reminded the nation to honor senior citizens, mentioning that seniors have laid the solid foundation for the country we are today. He notes that it is our responsibility to ensure our Nation’s seniors can age with dignity and financial security.
Sixty years ago, it was President John F. Kennedy who issued the first proclamation recognizing older Americans, at a time when a third of seniors lived in poverty, and close to half were without health insurance. With the passing of Medicare, strengthening Social Security, and other steps, this country raised so many seniors out of poverty and extended and expanded the quality of their lives.
The theme for this years Older Americans Month is ‘Aging Unbound’, which offers an opportunity to explore diverse aging experiences and discuss how communities can combat stereotypes. An octogenarian himself President Biden urged us to be flexible thinking about aging – and how we all benefit when older adults remain engaged, independent, and included.
Who are older adults? Over 45? Over 50? The “old-old” over 90? Everyone has special qualities. Some are physically able and can take charge of their own physical, social, mental, and financial wellness. Others need help.
No matter what the age, and no matter what month it is, here are some ideas for how to reinforce the themes for seniors as the older generations continue to surpass and amaze others with their abilities, and how we should all remain flexible when thinking about aging.
One of the best ways to begin changing our thinking about aging ourselves is through our stories. Stories build community and connect us and are a great way to learn about and engage with others. The Older American Month planners urge us to consider activities where elders can share their stories with younger people. They note that the best sharing activities are those where people feel encouraged and at ease.
- Arrange for older adults to share or read stories. Call a community center or group about a joint effort — perhaps they’d like older adults to share their experiences in a workshop. Alternatively, see if a local school would like to host a “Senior Day” where older adults speak to students, or contact libraries about older adults reading to young children.
- Arrange for local school students to interview older adults in the community and write short biographies. Plan a program at which the students read aloud their stories. Invite your local newspaper, blogger, or radio station to attend.
- Use video chat technology to host a storytelling party. Select a theme or question and give each person five minutes to tell a story that relates to it. Check out this Great Questions list from StoryCorps for ideas.
- Ask your social media followers to share their wisdom, tips, and stories online using a unique hashtag or by posting to a forum you manage. Be sure to provide guidance (e.g., length), what you’d most like to hear, and a contact person for questions.
- Organize a selfie challenge on social media. Create a theme phrase (e.g., “Aging unbound means…”) and use a related hashtag (e.g., #OlderAmericansMonth). Ask community members to fill in the blank and take a photo holding a paper with the sentence, and then post on social media using your hashtag. You can even design a simple template with the phrase that can be printed out to make it easier for to join in.