Every year during May, we take a moment to recognize and celebrate Older Americans Month (OAM). This month has focused on acknowledging older adults’ contributions and sacrifices. The official 2023 theme is “Aging Unbound”, which offers an opportunity to explore diverse aging experiences and discuss how communities can combat stereotypes.
When people first think of the term “Older Americans,” they may imagine grandparents with their kids and grandkids. You have likely seen a commercial that illustrates the stereotypical visit to the grandparent’s house, where grandma bakes cookies and grandpa sits in his recliner and reminisces about the good ole days. This is a classic Americana stereotype, but many older Americans do not fit into this group. About 20 percent of the baby boomer generation is child-free, and many older Americans do not have a nearby family support system because their children live in other cities or states. These are Solo Agers.
Solo Agers, who may be lacking support, are typically more at risk, which is why we want to take this time to focus our attention on older adults that do not have that crucial family support system available to help them day to day. These are the true Solo Agers, and these “forgotten” adults over age 65 will rely on creating and strengthening their social networks to help replace a missing family support system.
What is Older Americans Month?
The history of Older Americans Month dates back to 1963 when President John F. Kennedy met with the National Council of Senior Citizens to discuss the expanding needs of the older adult population, about 17 million people at the time. Of that 17 million, one-third lived in poverty, and the United States did not have enough resources to support programs to help them.
He established the month of May as Senior Citizens Month to bring attention to the problems they faced at the time. Two years later in 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson passed the Older Americans Act, recognizing older Americans’ contributions to society. Then in 1980, President Jimmy Carter changed the name to Older Americans Month to remember that older adults are not just “senior citizens” but are active and engaged members of society who continue to make significant contributions to their communities.
May is the designated month for several reasons. One is that it follows the end of the winter season when many older adults are more likely to be isolated and need support. Additionally, May includes several important holidays, including Mother’s Day and Memorial Day, which provides opportunities for families and communities to come together and celebrate.
OAM raises awareness of our forgotten older adults.
One of the beneficial values of this month is that focusing attention on all older Americans helps shine the light on those older adults that lack the friend and family support structure we all tend to take for granted. Since one of the critical messages of OAM is that aging is not a negative experience but a natural and celebrated part of life, it enhances the need to address the Solo Agers who have a higher chance that their experience is likely more harmful due to lack of social interaction.
Solo agers can have higher anxiety and depression.
Solo aging and lack of support are typically associated with losing independence, which can lead to depression and negatively affect older adult health. Among adults over 60, 27% of them report living alone. Older adults living alone have a 38% higher chance of feeling anxious or depressed.
This higher rate of anxiety may negatively impact their physical health. Well-being can also be negatively affected by difficulty in regularly obtaining food or reduced ability to seek medical help due to transportation constraints.
Fighting anxiety through positivity and social interaction.
Research has also shown that having a positive attitude toward aging can have significant health benefits. Older people with an improved attitude regarding aging were likely to engage in frequent physical activity. They were also less likely to experience trouble sleeping than their less-satisfied counterparts.
Older adults also were less likely to feel depressed and lonely and were generally more optimistic, with a stronger sense of purpose in their day-to-day lives. A positive attitude also helps to:
• Lower your risk of heart disease
• Help make it less likely to develop a chronic disease
• Help lower risk of depression
• Provide another way to manage daily stress
• Improve your immune system.
One way to help keep a positive attitude is to spend more time socializing with positive people. Most everyone has “that friend” that tends to be negative and can drain our energy. Look to your friends and spend more time with those with a more positive disposition. Suppose you need a few more positive people in your life. In that case, you can always engage with a company like Maxim at Home companionship services that specializes in providing cheerful companionship by vetting people who are kind, supportive, and have a very positive and uplifting attitude.
How can we help the forgotten solo-agers?
We just celebrated Mother’s Day, but during the celebration, most people never consider the older adult that is not a parent and doesn’t have family who they know will visit them on their special day, which is why Older Americans Month is so helpful, as it helps spread awareness of this forgotten class of people. It helps ensure these older adults are not forgotten and serves as a reminder that they are recognized, honored, and respected.
Being Older Americans Month, May has become popular for people to volunteer a few hours at senior centers/facilities. This precious gift of time and social interaction to solo agers is priceless to them.
It’s all about creating more social connections.
The most important way to celebrate Older Americans Month is by embracing the aging process from a social interaction perspective, shifting our mindset towards a more positive view of aging, and recognizing the benefits of growing our social circle. It means staying active and engaged as we age and making new connections through work, hobbies, or volunteering.
Maintaining solid relationships with family and friends promotes a sense of purpose and belonging as we age. Engaging with our communities and staying connected to others can also be a powerful way to embrace aging and build strong and resilient communities.
Many strategies can help us stay active and engaged as we age. These include taking up new hobbies or activities, volunteering in our communities, or pursuing education or training opportunities. All of these provide the additional opportunity to grow your network of connections.
Staying physically active is essential as you need mobility to take advantage of new social opportunities. The first step is to consult with your doctor regarding regular exercise. Then have them help you develop a program that you can use to maintain your physical health.
Technology can also play an essential role in helping older adults stay connected and engaged. Many now use social media and other digital tools to keep in touch with family and friends and access information and resources online, which is especially important for those who may be isolated or living far away from loved ones.
During OAM, you can change someone’s life for the better.
Ultimately, celebrating Older Americans Month is about challenging negative stereotypes about aging and promoting a more positive view of getting older. For Solo Agers it’s about building and becoming part of strong and resilient social groups that value the experiences and perspectives of all members, regardless of age.
As we celebrate Older Americans Month this May, let us take a moment to reflect on our entire aging community, but especially those Solo Agers. Let us honor the contributions of all older adults and embrace aging ourselves, recognizing that getting older is a natural and valuable part of life that should be celebrated and embraced.
If you want to make a difference in someone’s life, start with someone you know is part of your extended social circle. Someone with limited social resources might be showing a brave face while silently yearning for companionship.
Consider reaching out to them and taking them to lunch. You’ll be making a difference in their lives and at the end of the day. Your own as well.
The Maxim at Home team is here to help
Do you need help with a loved one? Then consider Maxim at Home’s homemaker and companionship services. Our team of friendly, compassionate Companions takes great pride in serving people in their own community who need light assistance with daily chores, some company and conversation, or convenient transportation for errands, appointments, or trips to the store.
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Older Americans Month 2023
Age My Way is theme for Older Americans Month 2022
Older Americans Month 2023: Aging Unbound
Aging successfully in the Brazos Valley
Longevity increased by positive self-perceptions of aging
Perspectives of Older Adults on Aging Well: A Focus Group Study
Loneliness, depression and sociability in old age
Older Adults Living Alone Report Higher Rates of Anxiety and Depression