Every May our nation observes Older Americans Month. This year the theme is:
with friends, family, and services that support participation.
by engaging in activities that promote learning, health, and personal enrichment.
time, talent, and life experience to benefit others.
As is so often the case these official proclamations and observations seem to go nowhere in particular or only speak to those who are already engaged in celebrating our older friends and family.
The list above can and should cut both ways: older people can offer us a connection to our history, to participation in different ways than we are used to. Older people are often the first to have the time and enthusiasm for a creative expression or experience. And perhaps most importantly older people have a wealth of knowledge and experience to share if only someone would ask?
What gets in the way of involvement is so often AGEISM. Assuming we know who or what an older person is or can be just because they are older. In her April 26, 2019 article for the New York Times Paula Span quotes Alana Officer, who leads the World Health Organization’s global campaign against ageism, as saying about ageism: “It’s an incredibly prevalent and insidious problem,”
There have been some programs and studies that bring some good news as Ms. Span reports, a team at Cornell University "is about to publish a study -The team spent a year and a half sifting through dozens of articles, from the 1970s through last year, evaluating anti-ageism programs. "
"The researchers analyzed 64 studies, most conducted in the United States, involving 6,124 participants, from preschoolers to young adults. The investigators classified about a third of the programs studied as intergenerational, meaning they created contacts between young and old that, in theory, could lessen prejudice. "
"These were small, inexpensive, local efforts, pointed out the study’s lead author, David Burnes, now a gerontologist at the University of Toronto."
"Almost universally, after such interventions, participants showed significantly less ageism on attitude tests and greater knowledge of aging than comparison groups that hadn’t taken part. The combined educational and intergenerational approach proved the most effective."
This month and every month find a way to connect, create and contribute to the older people in your community ? If you are lucky you are sowing the seeds for a garden you will be happy to walk through someday!