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Senior Spectrum Newspaper
May 2018
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Senior Spectrum Publications

Adding Life to Years
by Dr. Lawrence J. Weiss
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Engage at Every Age

Dr. Lawrence J. Weiss
Dr. Lawrence J. Weiss

May is Older Americans Month! When Older Americans Month was established in 1963, only 17 million living Americans had reached their 65th birthday. About a third of older Americans lived in poverty and there were few programs to meet their needs. Interest in older Americans and their concerns was growing. A meeting in April 1963 between President John F. Kennedy and members of the National Council of Senior Citizens led to designating May as “Senior Citizens Month,” the prelude to “Older Americans Month.”

Historically, Older Americans Month has been a time to acknowledge the contributions of past and current older persons to our country, in particular those who defended our country. Every President since Kennedy has issued a formal proclamation during or before the month of May asking that the entire nation pay tribute in some way to older persons in their communities. Older Americans Month is celebrated across the country through ceremonies, events, fairs, and other such activities.

Now the federal Administration for Community Living dedicates May to all older Americans and the 2018 theme is Engage at Every Age. This emphasizes that one is never too old to participate and make a difference in our community. This includes activities that enrich our body, mind, and spirit. Go to www.reno.gov/ or call 775-328-2527 for program information for Washoe County ranging from education sessions, lectures, games, counseling, dancing, bean bag baseball, grief support, clogging, blood pressure clinic, and many more.

Both Reno’s mayor, city council, and Washoe County’s Commission have proclaimed May as Older Americans Month! They have urged every resident to take time during the month of May to recognize older adults and the people who serve them as vital parts of the community. The theme promotes engagement and celebrates the many ways in which older adults make a difference. Aging or growing older means a lot of things to different people but most people view it as negative.

Hence, we deny it and do not focus on its benefits. Those that do not plan for it will suffer. Average age in the U.S. is increasing and the number of older adults in the state is one of the fastest growing states in the nation.

In 2014, 46 million people age 65 and over lived in the U.S., accounting for 15 percent of the total population. The older population in 2030 is projected to be more than twice as large as in 2000, growing from 35 million to 74 million and representing 21 percent of the total population. Older Americans are quickly becoming the fastest growing segment of the population. The 2000 Census Bureau reported that 11 percent of Nevada’s population fell within this aging category of 65+ and 21 percent are 60+. Amazingly, interim projections estimate that between 2000 and 2030, Nevada’s 65 and older population will increase over 260 percent. Only two other states, Alaska and Arizona, will see an increase of over 200 percent during this time period (Census 2005).

Given the tremendous older population increases, we need to pay more attention to what we, as we age, are doing. Aging means that we can put things in perspective, which is not always easy. It can also mean that we have more inner peace, confidence, and wisdom. These positive elements need to be nurtured and developed, they do not come with negative attitudes. Therefore, Older Americans Month theme of Engage at Every Age helps with developing the positive elements that bring value, health, and happiness. All ages need to value aging, after all what is the alternative. So this month of May let’s celebrate our age by first acknowledging it, then practicing healthy aging through engagement.

According to some research, people report that most happiness occurs in youth, and they are not that happy again until they reach their 70s and beyond. Other research has shown people grow happier at age 65 and beyond. Some experts believe it is because older people are able to tap into the toolbox of social and emotional instincts they’ve built with experience. Clearly what is important is that we are not passive and just accept the negativity and denial about aging, but rather engage ourselves in life. We need to occupy, attract, or involve (someone's interest or attention) and participate or become involved in aging. The activities that have been developed for Older Americans Month exemplifies engagement. The various events focus on education, socialization, cultural development, and various methods to take control and engage in our health and our community. Being old and working with old people is enlightening. I have a surrogate father who at 94 still attracts the women and can tell delightful stories about his youth and he never stops learning things like how to play the guitar or use technology. He consistently helps other people though actions and his words of wisdom.

Try offering your wisdom and experience to the next generation or seek the mentorship of someone with more life experience than you, or simply volunteer to give back to your community. These are just a few examples of what being engaged can mean. No matter where you are in your life, there is no better time than now to start, after all being old is being wise. We expect that you will join in and Engage at Every Age, what better way to “add life to years.”

 

Lawrence J. Weiss, Ph.D. is CEO of the Center for Healthy Aging. Dr. Weiss welcomes your comments on this column. Write to him at larry@addinglifetoyears.com or c/o Center for Healthy Aging, 11 Fillmore Way, Reno, NV 89519.