In 1963, when John F. Kennedy, the youngest president of the United States, first declared May Senior Citizens Month, there were 17 million Americans who had reached their 65th birthday. By 2009, according to the Administration on Aging, there were 39.6 million Americans who were 65 or older. Seventeen years after President Kennedy’s initiative to recognize seniors, Jimmy Carter declared May Older Americans Month and enshrined it as a permanent tradition.
Since John F. Kennedy, every president has issued a proclamation in honor of the contributions of seniors in building communities, defending the country and participating in local life. As the numbers and life styles of older Americans change, so have the Older American Month themes. Last year’s theme was “Unleashing the Power of Age,” recognizing that more seniors than ever before continue to work, volunteer and engage in a variety of civic and recreational activities.
This year, Older Americans month’s theme is “Safe Today, Healthy Tomorrow,” highlighting the importance of protecting oneself from accidents and falls by exercising and engaging in prevention strategies. As a result of life-extending advances in medicine and Massachusetts’ health care reform efforts making affordable, quality health care more accessible, more seniors are living longer and more independently. If a person lives to celebrate his or her 65th birthday, he or she is likely to live another 20 years.
Today, more people are choosing to live their lives in their own homes or their own communities, rather than in a long term care facility, underscoring the value of programs that improve balance and strength and increase awareness of potential home hazards.
The message in Safe Today, Healthy Tomorrow is that we can all develop habits that will make us stronger and safer, and will likely diminish or eliminate the accidents that are responsible for 30,000 senior deaths a year and 6 million treated falls-related injuries.
The Massachusetts Executive Office of Elder Affairs has actively supported evidenced-based programs that promote falls prevention and chronic disease-self management. Local senior centers often include at least one of these programs in their activity line-up. These multi-week courses teach people techniques for improving their lives and empower them to take control of their health. People at any age may choose to enroll in programs that make them safe today and live healthy tomorrow. It’s a great way to celebrate Older Americans month. For a council on aging or senior center near you, click on to: http://www.mass.gov/elders/service-orgs-advocates/coa/ or www.800AgeInfo.
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