For most of human history, “aging” wasn’t a hot topic. In the Iron Age, people didn’t live past their twenties. By 1900, the average lifespan was still under 50 in the United States. When President Kennedy designated May as “Senior Citizens Month” in 1963, only 17 million living Americans had reached their 65th birthday, and there were few programs to meet their needs.
Two years later, President Johnson signed the Older Americans Act (OAA) into law. Under the auspices of the Administration on Aging, the OAA helps promote the well being of older adults by providing community-based services and opportunities to help people live healthy, independent lives. It was a game-changer in every way, from health and wellness programs, to long-term care support, to elder rights protection, and other social services.
Half a century hence, with the Boomer wave graying the globe, OAA funding failed to keep pace with inflation, prompting the Older Americans Act Reauthorization Act in 2016, which focuses on:
- Modernizing multipurpose senior centers
- Addressing economic needs
- Stronger elder justice and legal services
- Chronic disease self-management and falls prevention.
Clearly, “Older Americans Month” is every month, now. And, appropriately, the 2017 theme is, “Age Out Loud.”
Brands get it: they’re embracing seniors, aka “Perennials,” in lieu of “overrated” Millennials. Explains trend curator and author Rohit Bhargava, “We should each be described not by the generation we fit into, but based on our interests, passions, and who we are as people.
“Netflix doesn’t target shows or recommendations based on age — they do it based on what they know we like to watch. While not a new idea for any brand that uses psychographics, the term is an elegant way to describe the simple idea that if we are going to be categorized for anything, it should be on what we believe and love instead of what year we happened to be born.” He sounds like a great HECM spokesperson.
Engage, Entertain, Exercise
Another site that understands the concept of aging out loud is Passport for Wellness, a physical, mental and social program created for “21st century seniors” who are aging in place, or living in an assisted living community.
The virtual travel site streams scenery and sounds of exciting destinations from all over the world, so “travelers” feel like they’re touring while they exercise.
Led by an on-screen host, travelers explore the world through physical movement, memory recall, and trivia questions. Each “episode” incorporates entertaining story lines and interesting experiences from around the world and throughout history. The creative storytelling allows traditional exercises to become an integral part of the immersive, movement-filled activity, providing seniors with a full sensory workout.
Stepping Out of the “Age Discussion”
One creative way mature adults can celebrate Older Americans Month is to simply say, “I’m ageless”. Women’s health expert and author Christiane Northrup, M.D., says there’s actual science behind our culture of ageism — and we can change it.
“We co-author each other’s biology,” Northrup explains. “Our idea of what an age ‘should’ look like programs our biology in a profound way that has been studied. It’s robust research. When you spend time with people who don’t think about their age, all the parameters of health improve: cardiac output, vital capacity with lung function, blood pressure…all of it. Because our body doesn’t know an age.”
Northrup also distinguishes between chronologic age (the age on our driver’s license) and biologic age (the actual age of our cells) — which we have much more control over than we think. Northrup’s mother, now in her 90s, has always been a fitness powerhouse; in her sixties, she had a biologic age of 35.
Northrup’s advice: don’t celebrate milestone birthdays (e.g., 40, 50, 60) because we tend to measure ourselves by some invisible yardstick in terms of health or accomplishments.
Of course, this caveat may be less critical for nonagenarians like Doris Day, who didn’t know her chronological age all her life, until now. “I’ve always said that age is just a number and I have never paid much attention to birthdays, but it’s great to finally know how old I really am!” Day said on the eve of her 95th birthday.
Or, like Ernestine Stollberg, perhaps a mature adult who’s stepped out of the age discussion will discover 95 is the best age to become a model.
The only age an older adult really needs to know, of course, is 62, when they become eligible to apply for a reverse mortgage. Beyond that, you’re as old (or young) as you decide to be.