Older Americans Month was celebrated for the first time in 1965, when the Older Americans Act (OAA) was signed into law. Fifty-five years later, the nationwide system of organizations, services and programs established under the OAA continue to work together to help older adults live independently in their communities. That work has never been more important, so we had a lot to celebrate when the OAA was reauthorized earlier this year!
More than half a century later, Older Americans Month (OAM) is still going strong, too. Each year, we celebrate a little differently. We choose a fresh theme – this year, it’s “Make Your Mark” – and share suggested activities to celebrate the contributions of older adults to our communities across the country.
OAM 2020 is turning out even more different than expected. Instead of gathering to show our love and respect for each other, we’re staying apart. Here at ACL, we have adjusted our suggested activities and resources for OAM to respond to our new “virtual” situation. Because even when we’re apart physically, we can connect and support each other. We can still make our mark on each others’ lives. In fact, it’s more important than ever.
Social isolation and loneliness are known risk factors for both physical and mental health issues, especially among older adults. Older Americans Month coincides with Mental Health Awareness Month. On May 7, I joined leaders and experts from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Veterans Health Administration, and National Coalition on Mental Health and Aging for a webinar to share recent research and offer ways to combat this growing problem among our older adults. If you weren’t able to join us for that, a recording will be available soon.
The opposite of isolation is connection. Telephone and video chat are two great ways we can connect with each other these days, and I encourage everyone to make the most of both. Another way to connect is through sharing stories. The stories my grandparents told me definitely made their mark on me. They taught me about resilience and love and instilled a sense of duty and dignity that inspires my work here at ACL. Lately, I’ve been reaching out to my daughters (both at Oklahoma State University) and trading stories about the unusual things happening in our lives, which is helping us stay close even though we live apart. We have great suggestions for connecting with others through stories on our activities page, along with general resources for engaging virtually – to socialize, explore, and unwind, and to look out for each other.
Speaking of connection and support, I want to take this opportunity to recognize our dedicated and creative aging services network that makes an indelible mark on this country every day. And right now, network organizations are essential. They’re ensuring older Americans continue to receive the services, supplies, and other resources they need to stay safely distanced and independent.
This year, I encourage you to make your mark by reaching out, connecting in some way with neighbors, friends, and family members. Because we’re all in this together.