Older Americans Month, celebrated every May, was first established in 1963. At that time there were 17 million Americans who were 65 and above, 1/3 of which lived in poverty. The purpose of designating a specific month to elders was multifold. It became a time to celebrate past contributions of our aging neighbors while also acknowledging their current contributions and worth. It was a time to recognize ageism and focus on tackling the challenges that older adults so often face, including food insecurity, accessibility, housing, healthcare, and isolation.

Each year, starting with Kennedy, the United States President will issue a formal proclamation, and this year is no different. In his statement, President Biden stressed connection, engagement and dignity for the aging. He mourned the incredible and often premature loss of seniors age 65+ to COVID-19 (80% of all COVID-19 deaths) and the concurrent impact of social isolation. He praised the past and continued impact of older adults in our communities.

Social isolation and loneliness have long touched the lives of older people, and is now seen as a serious public health risk, leading to increases in dementia, depression, anxiety, heart disease, and stroke. Studies have shown ¼ of all adults age 65+ are socially isolated, with disproportionate impact affecting immigrants, LGBTQ+ people, and minorities. Engagement and inclusion are key.

The idea of community connection ties in well to the theme of this year’s Older Americans Month- Communities of Strength.  Staying physically apart this past year makes connection that much more difficult, however with a little creativity we have seen the power in coming together by phone (such as MOWCM’s Call Connections), social distanced meetings, and video calls, building resilience along the way.

Here in our Maryland community, the 60+ population continues to increase as the Baby Boomers age. In fact, individuals 80-84 are the fastest growing age segment of the entire population.  As a state, we must focus on these vulnerable folks and their caregivers, recognizing that families, systems, and health care providers are deeply connected. Increased autonomy and dignity come in many ways. From scam and healthy eating education to access to housing as well as physical and behavioral health care. It comes when we listen to one another, knowing each other’s worth. This Older Americans Month, we celebrate our communities and everyone that is a part of them.