Older Americans Month is a May celebration in the United States as an offshoot of “Senior Citizens Month.” This month asks the entire nation to pay tribute to the vast reservoir of knowledge, wisdom, and experiences that older citizens bring.
Likewise, it recognizes their significant contributions to our communities and society and encourages us to understand, empathize, and respond to older adults' challenges, promoting flexible thinking about getting old. Read on to learn more.
Featured in: May - Awareness Months, Days & Observances.
History and Background of Older Americans Month
In 1963, about a third of American senior citizens lived in poverty. So, President John F. Kennedy and the National Council of Senior Citizens led a campaign to address the welfare of older adults.
This partnership resulted in the establishment of Senior Citizens Month, which honored those who dedicated their lives to the nation, particularly the brave individuals who fought for the country.
In 1980, societal attitudes towards aging changed, prompting President Jimmy Carter to rename Senior Citizens Month to Older Americans Month. The name change reflected a shift in perspective, recognizing aging as a time of continued growth and contribution rather than the final stage of life.
The month-long celebration has played a crucial role in shaping policies that benefit older adults, as exemplified by the Older Americans Act passed in 1965. This act gave birth to the Federal Administration on Aging, which showcased the government's dedication to the well-being of older adults.
Moreover, the spirit of Older Americans Month encourages an environment where older adults explore diverse aging experiences.
Relatedly, the theme for Older Americans Month 2023 was “Aging Unbound.” It encourages us to try diverse aging experiences while discussing how to combat stereotypes.
The Cause and Its Challenges
One of the challenges for older people is ageism1, a form of discrimination that often goes unnoticed. For example, many older adults experience being overlooked in the workplace while their health concerns are dismissed as trivial.
Another issue that affects seniors is social isolation. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that almost 27% of older adults live alone, which can lead to mental health problems like depression.
Financial insecurity is also a significant concern for many seniors. Nearly one in ten Americans aged 65 and above live at or below the federal poverty level3. Unfortunately, there are a few programs that address their needs.
Likewise, as people grow older, their health challenges increase. Recent research estimates that about 95% of adults 60 and older have at least one chronic health condition, and 80% have at least two.
A comfortable and safe home is essential, but even housing can be a struggle. Accessible and affordable housing that meets the needs of seniors is hard to come by. Moreover, a study found that less than 4% of U.S. housing units are suitable for individuals with moderate mobility difficulties2.
Efforts and Initiatives
The World Health Organization has launched a global strategy and action plan on aging and health to promote a world where everyone can live a long and healthy life, regardless of age. They focus on fighting against ageism, improving the availability and quality of long-term care, and promoting the idea of healthy aging.
On the other hand, the National Council on Aging (NCOA) in the United States has been gaining attention for its Aging Mastery Program, which aims to empower older adults with the tools they need to flourish in their later years. The program promotes proactive health behaviors, financial wellness, and social connections, emphasizing a holistic approach to aging.
Similarly, The Benevolent Society in Australia is making a difference with its EveryAGE Counts campaign, which aims to change the narrative around aging, challenge ageism, and promote a more inclusive and understanding society.
How to Get Involved and Support Older Americans Month
Make sure older adults remain engaged by creating community engagement activities. Through these events, learn from their experiences, talk about their mental health, or simply give them company.
Learn about the realities of aging by attending seminars, gatherings, or health fairs. You can also gain valuable insights from trusted sources such as NCOA and AARP.
Volunteer your time or expertise with organizations supporting older Americans, as they often require assistance delivering meals, offering rides, or socializing.
Older Americans Month lets us celebrate the contributions and value of senior citizens in our society. Every May is an opportunity to acknowledge their resilience, wisdom, and ongoing role in our communities.
However, we must also advocate for policies that protect and empower seniors throughout the year. By affirming the worth and dignity of every individual, regardless of age, we can create a more inclusive and richer society.
FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)
It is an annual observance in the United States every May that celebrates and recognizes the contributions and achievements of older adults.
It raises awareness about the needs and issues faced by older persons, promotes their rights, and encourages intergenerational connections.
You can volunteer at local senior centers, advocate for policies that benefit older adults, participate in community events, or spend quality time with older family members or neighbors.
These challenges include healthcare access, financial security, social isolation, and ageism. We must address these issues and create a supportive community living environment for older adults.
Ayalon, L., & Tesch-Römer, C. (2017). Taking a closer look at ageism: Self- and other-directed ageist attitudes and discrimination. European Journal of Ageing, 14(1), 1-4.
Chan, S., Bosher, L., Ellen, I. G., Karfunkel, B., & Liao, H. L. (2015). Accessibility of America’s Housing stock: Analysis of the 2011 American Housing Survey (AHS). Social Science Research Network.
ACL Administration for Community Living. (n.d.). Profile of Older Americans.