Seniors take center stage, not as members of a dance troupe, choir or symphony, but as the star performers of Senior Citizens Month. The month of May is set aside to celebrate older Americans of the past and those who are alive today for their contributions to society.
This official recognition of older Americans began with President Kennedy in 1963 when he designated May as “seniors month” during a meeting with the National Senior Citizens Council. That was when only 17 million Americans reached their 65th birthday, compared to more than 50 million today or 16.5% of our population. About a third of those 17 million lived in poverty with few programs to meet their needs.
This year’s theme, “Aging in Place,” focuses on how seniors can plan to stay in their homes and live independently in their communities for as long as possible.
According to a recent AARP survey, 77% of adults aged 50 and over want to stay at home long term, a number that has been constant for more than a decade.
Here are some questions to consider when making the decision to stay in your residence:
Is my accommodation suitable for people with reduced mobility? According to the same AARP report, one-third of participants indicated that they would need to modify their current residence to live safely. Changes included modifying bathrooms with grab bars and stepless showers, one bathroom and one bedroom on the first floor; a room that can be used as a bedroom.
Do I have accessible health care? This can be a problem for those who live in rural areas. Studies have shown that physical health is worse in the rural population than in the urban population. It’s even worse for the elderly who have greater health needs with fewer resources. A major concern for many is having adequate transportation as well as having technical skills and a computer for telehealth appointments.
Am I part of a community? Social isolation is considered a national epidemic. Since the pandemic, it has amplified. We need to ask ourselves, “Where is my community? The answer could be family members, friends or a religious community. These might be interest groups about books, music, knitting, stocks and finance, bridge or mahjong, gardening, or an alumni association. Then there is the Village, a membership organization whose mission is to support seniors who want to age in place and more specifically those who want to stay connected to their community. The Village itself is a community. See those in South Bay Village, Palos Verdes Peninsula Village, and Westside Pacific Village.
Do I feel safe? Feeling safe in our homes may require an alarm system. We need to prevent falls, which may require some changes. For example, eliminate throw rugs, create adequate indoor and outdoor lighting, remove electrical cords from walkways, use bathroom safety devices, and use a night light. If you live alone, consider a personal emergency response system. I recently discovered that the Apple Watch has a built-in emergency response system.
“Aging in place is not a plan” according to Sara Zeff Geber, author of “Essential Retirement Planning for Solo Agers: A Retirement and Aging Road Map for Single and Childless Adults” (Mango Publishing, 2018). She says, “At best, it’s an aspiration that can be dangerous for many people. Lonely seniors (seniors without children or family support) are particularly vulnerable when they adhere to a rigid determination to age in place. After a fall or other incident at home, we often hear “he was then transferred to an assisted living facility”. Who facilitated this move? Almost always, an adult child. Without a contingency plan for this type of crisis, single seniors would have no control over their own future.
For many, aging in place may not be an option. Rather than aging in place, they can be “stuck in place” because they don’t have the financial resources to help them move or they can’t afford to live in nursing homes, according to Linna Zhu of the Urban Institute, as noted in the report of the AARP.
The important message is to be aware of what aging in place entails. Consider future needs and preferences and determine if the current living environment matches anticipated needs and preferences. So act accordingly.
Beyond the important theme of Older Americans Month, we are reminded to recognize and cherish our older friends, relatives, acquaintances and public figures – past and present – for who they are and for their contributions to making our communities and our society a better place.
Happy Older Americans Month! Stay safe and be kind to yourself and others.
Helen Dennis is a nationally recognized leader on aging and new retirement issues with academic, corporate, and nonprofit experience. Contact Helen with your questions and comments at [email protected]. Visit Helen at HelenMdennis.com and follow her at facebook.com/SuccessfulAgingCommunity.