May is Older Americans Month and has been since 1963. It’s a time when proclamations are made and (at least pre-COVID) parties were held to honor older people and the difference they make in communities across the nation.
While our interactions are somewhat limited due to the ongoing pandemic, there’s one thing I would like to see done this Older Americans Month. I’d like to encourage everyone to hold conversations with family members and friends about life experiences and wishes that illustrate this year’s Older Americans Month theme: Age My Way.
Breaking down barriers
We all carry bias about aging. We display it when we cringe at having our age announced on our birthday. And we laugh at the age jokes—until they’re not funny anymore. I believe that by sharing more about our lives and talking more openly about aging, we can broaden perspectives and help to reduce ageism that exists in many cultures.
Way too often, aging is equated with loss of ability. Just look up “aging” on Thesaurus.com: crumbling, fading, waning, senescent (deteriorating), declining, wearing out, stale. Because of those synonyms, use of the word “aging”—whether as an adjective, a noun, or a verb—conjures up negative images.
During Older Americans Month, let’s focus on positive terms, such as wisdom, experience, freedom, and longevity. Longevity is a gift. We’re lucky to grow older—and grow old. Some aren’t so fortunate.
You may have seen “How to live longer (or just better)” in the Seattle Times last month. Note the studies that found that people who hold negative stereotypes about aging in middle age are more likely to have a heart attack or stroke than people who have more positive thoughts about aging, and that people with positive beliefs about aging are far less likely to develop dementia. Those things alone are cause to celebrate aging, or at least show it a little more respect.
I also appreciated the writer’s views on aging with purpose and mindful loving kindness. These point to the value of gratitude and appreciation, starting with ourselves.
How do I get started?
You don’t need to start with “Now I’m going to talk with you about what it’s like to grow older,” although that’s something you may wish to discuss later. Instead, focus on ways to share your life story in small doses, and ask others to share with you.
Last December, we published an AgeWise article, “Engage the Generations to Make Holiday Memories and Celebrate Traditions,” by Keri Pollock. It’s chock full of suggestions for engaging loved ones. The section about StoryCorps is particularly intriguing. Among resources on the StoryCorps website, you’ll find Great Questions that you can ask others and they may ask you. (By the way, I didn’t spot the words “aging” or “growing old” in these questions; instead, the questions focus on sharing information about a life well lived.)
Your life story is important and worthy of sharing. Sharing helps build understanding. Similarly, young people have life stories. We can learn from the young and they can learn from us.
Happy Older Americans Month to all!
Contributor Joe Hailey chairs the Seattle-King County Advisory Council on Aging & Disability Services. He welcomes input from readers via e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org) and encourages anyone interested in joining the ADS Advisory Council to consider applying when positions open. For more information, visit www.agingkingcounty.org/advisory-council.
Mark Your Calendars
Following are virtual events in which ADS Advisory Council members will participate this month:
- Older Americans Month (May): Click the link for more information.
- Neighbor Day: Saturday, May 7. Neighbor Day is a special day set aside to reach out to neighbors, make new friends, and express thanks to those who help make your neighborhood a great place to live.
- Mother’s Day: Sunday, May 8. We celebrate mothers, grandmothers, aunties, and all maternal caregivers!
- Age Friendly Virtual Civic Coffee: On Thursday, May 19 (10:30 a.m.–12 noon), Civic Coffee will feature a celebration of older adults; their many workplace, family, and community contributions; and resources that support them. Log on via our Virtual Events webpage or on Facebook. For more information, e-mail email@example.com.
- ADS Advisory Council: Friday, May 13 (12 noon–2 p.m.). For more information or to request the virtual meeting link, e-mail Sariga.Santhosh@seattle.gov.
- Washington Senior Lobby: Monday, May 16 (10 a.m.). To participate in the Senior Lobby’s monthly virtual meetings, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Global Accessibility Awareness Day: Wednesday, May 18. GAAD is an annual global event, designed to engage people around the world in talking, thinking, and learning about digital access and inclusion.
- Mayor’s Council on African American Elders: Friday, May 20 (2:00–3:30 p.m.) online only. To receive the meeting link, e-mail Karen.Winston@seattle.gov in advance.
For more local Aging Network events, click here.