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Did you know May is Older Americans Month?
Older Americans Month (OAM), also known as Older Adults Month, is an annual celebration that takes place every May. Lead by the Administration for Community Living, Older Americans Month is a time to celebrate the strength and resilience of older adults. They have endured successes, failures, joys, and struggles that resonate with our innermost desires and fears. Their stories and contributions inspire millions of people every day to connect with one another for the purpose of building stronger communities.
Continue along to learn how Older Americans Month began, how you can celebrate, and what this year’s OAM theme has in store.
History of Older Americans Month
In 1963, President John F. Kennedy met with the National Council of Senior Citizens to address the growing concerns of older adults living in poverty. At the time, only 17 million Americans had reached their 65th birthday, and there were very few social programs to help meet senior needs. They established “Senior Citizens Month” to raise awareness of these challenges and honor the contributions of older adults, especially those who defended our country.
Later in 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson renamed “Senior Citizens Month” to Older Americans month - but the intentions remained the same. In fact, President Johnson took Kennedy’s proclamation a step further by passing the Older Americans Act that constituted financial assistance programs and federal support for older adults. The Older Americans Act includes support for:
- Nutrition programs, such as Meals On Wheels
- Transportation assistance such as Eldercare Locator
- In-home services
- Legal assistance
- Programs for elder abuse prevention
These systems help older adults stay as independent as possible in their homes and communities. They also help seniors to avoid hospitalization and nursing home care that may, as a result, save on federal and state funding.
Every President since Kennedy has issued a formal proclamation during May asking America to pay tribute to older persons in their communities.
Celebrating Older Americans Month
Communities across the country celebrate Older Adults Month through:
Each year the Administration for Community Living (ACL) and the Administration on Aging (AOA), a segment of the ACL, come together and establish a theme for Older Americans Month and encourage communities to organize events based on that theme.
For instance, in 2019, the Older Americans Month theme was Connect, Create, Contribute.
- Connect with friends, family, and services that support participation.
- Create by engaging in activities that promote learning, health, and personal enrichment.
- Contribute time, talent, and life experience to benefit others.
Last year was a little different due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but communities across the country still found a way to participated in the 2020 theme: Make Your Mark. The theme highlighted the difference everyone can make – in the lives of older adults, in support of caregivers, and in strengthening communities. Activities such as artwork, video chat technology, and social media interactions were practiced to maintain safe measures surrounding the pandemic.
OAM 2021 and Safety Tips
Older Americans Month 2021 continues to focus on staying safely connected with the theme: Communities of Strength. We can still do many things, despite the pandemic, to nurture ourselves, recognize our strength, and thrive. Connecting with others is one of the most important aspects – it plays a vital role in the health and well-being of the community as a whole. Before we get into activity ideas, here are a few safety tips for seniors to remember.
Talk to Your Doctor - Discuss physical activities that are right for you. Regular exercise is crucial for heart health and improves:
Get your vision checked regularly. Good eyesight can help prevent injuries in the home and in the community. Ask your physician about your medications and side effects. Many drugs may interact with other prescription/over-the-counter meds, certain foods, and alcohol. Some medications may make you dizzy or unsteady on your feet. Create a schedule or use a medication box to ensure you are taking no less or more than prescribed.
Prevent Falls – Install handrails and grab bars around stairs, in bathrooms, and in hallways or walkways. Make sure you have adequate lighting inside and outside of the home. Nightlights are ideal for trips to the bathroom at night, and non-slip shoes can ensure a steady gate. Use a walking aid if needed to improve stability.
Prevent Fires and Burns – Set your water heater to 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Maintain and test smoke detectors regularly. When cooking, wear snug-fitting or short sleeve clothing. Use high-quality oven mitts, especially those that cover your forearms. Do not smoke in your home.
Activity Ideas for OAM 2021
The pandemic has resulted in social isolation for people of all ages. Sharing our strengths and experiences with one another can help us get through this difficult time. Here are some ideas to celebrate Older Adults Month 2021:
Intergenerational Pen Pals
Adolescents and young adults may be experiencing a significant struggle for the first time in their lives. Seniors may be able to guide them and talk them through the challenges we face today. In turn, this can also be therapeutic for older adults – helping others creates a sense of belonging and purpose. Start an intergeneration Pen Pal activity by working with:
- Local schools
- Youth organizations
- Recreational organizations
- Neighborhood communities
Distanced Outdoor Events
Seeing people in person offers a richer sense of connection rather than virtual gatherings. The CDC suggests outdoor gatherings with plenty of ventilation, masks, and social distancing measures pose a lower risk of spreading COVID-19. Here are some ideas for distanced outdoor events:
- Game night – Contactless options include Charades or Pictionary.
- Outdoor movie screening – Sharing a laugh through a funny comedy can bring people closer together.
- Outdoor musical event – Music inspires, heals, and helps people to connect. You can hire a band, show off your own musical talents or just play music from an app while everyone makes music requests.
Need Help Organizing an Event for Older Adults Month?
Make sure to follow all state and health guidelines. Check your state health department for safety information. Connect with your local senior center, community college, or library to find programs in your area.
Find more resources at the ACL website.
Download OAM posters and logos here.
Join the Older Americans Month movement by promoting the ways in which we stay connected. Don’t forget to use the hashtag #OlderAmericansMonth to share your plans and stories on social media.
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