Older Americans Month – Engage At Every Age
If Not Now When
By Jeff Rubin
“A nation is judged on the basis of how it treats, its least, its last, its littlest,” is a phrase I’ve often quoted over the years because it speaks to the heart of inclusion, respect, and human value. This citation has been attributed to many authors over the years, from Henry Ford to Harry Truman to Mahatma Gandhi, to name a few. It has been applied in pursuit of several noble causes. I’d like to take this opportunity to apply it to one more.
In 1963, when the idea first came to fruition, only 17 million Americans were age 65 or older, about a third of whom lived in poverty. Today, there are more than 40.3 million of us, with some 15% still living in poverty, and others barely squeaking by.
May is National Older Ameicans Month, a time set aside to honor the many ways older citizens have enriched our nation as well as our community. Yet, even though Older Americans Month has been proclaimed by every President since John F. Kennedy, there are still many people alive today who say they’ve never heard of it.
In 1963, when the idea first came to fruition, only 17 million Americans were age 65 or older, about a third of whom lived in poverty. Today, there are more than 40.3 million of us, with some 15% still living in poverty, and others barely squeaking by. By 2050, demographers expect those 65 and over to reach 88.5 million or roughly 20 per cent of the overall population.
Despite this tremendous shift, far too many communities have yet to prepare for the impact already being felt today.
There are several reasons for this, not the least of which is denial. Instead of embracing age, too many among us see it as a period of decline where value and worth are questioned, and dreams of a “next chapter” are either discouraged, dashed or ignored. My own experience over the years leads me to believe that too many people still see the elderly as people who only receive services rather than people who are infinitely capable of providing them for themselves and others. It is this mindset that has limited our thinking in planning for the future.
Unfortunately, ageism is prevalent throughout our society. Yet the term is often misapplied. Used primarily to describe discrimination against “older” people, it is in fact, the stereotyping and discrimination against any individual or group based solely on age. The term in fact, paints a broad brush in determining human value at both ends of the spectrum, as it marginalizes the young as well as the old. This is particularly disconcerting when decisions being made often exclude the people being impacted.
As a tribute to this year’s Older Americans Month and its theme, “Engage at Every Age,” I’d like to put forth my own set of principles for your consideration.
Honor the right of every individual to be treated with dignity and respect regardless of their age, ability, station, or income
Take stock in the abundance of human capital available to us at every season of a person’s life
Empower those whose insights, experience, and wisdom are seldom sought or rarely heard
Promote inter-generational dialogue, planning, and action on issues impacting the quality of life for people of all ages
Protect the safety and well-being of older people to live out their lives without having to make a choice between food or medication, or the fear of becoming isolated or alone
Consider them a benchmark for anyone you know who’s growing old.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR – JEFF RUBIN
Jeff Rubin is a consultant on community and aging issues and the author of Wisdom of Age.
Having spent over 20 years as a director and facilitator of community service programs at the local, state and national levels, he is today an advocate for “Age-friendly” and “Livable” communities, Mr. Rubin is currently working to advance these initiatives in Kentucky and elsewhere around the country. He welcomes your feedback and can be reached at Jeffrubin515@gmail.com with your comments, questions, or support