A message from the Office of Elder Affairs Secretary Ann Hartstein
Fifty years ago, the youngest United States president designated May Senior Citizens Month. At the time President Kennedy issued his proclamation, 17 million Americans had reached their 65th birthday. Medicare wouldn’t be enacted until 1965 and there were few federal and state benefits in place. Life expectancy was 66 years.
Today, there are more than 41 million Americans who have celebrated their 65th birthday and their ranks are increasing at the rate of 10,000 per day. Life expectancy is 78 years across the nation, and nearly 81 years in Massachusetts. Seniors currently represent nearly 20 percent of the population, but by 2030, more than 26 percent of the country will be 65 or older.
This year, the theme of Older American’s Month – President Carter changed the name in 1980 – is Unleashing the Power of Age, which seems eminently appropriate given the numbers and longevity of today’s senior population. More seniors are still working or looking for jobs, engaged in athletic activities, volunteering in their communities, retooling skills, following artistic pursuits, aging in place, and caring for family members. With the advent of antibiotics, healthy lifestyles, greater access to health care and community supports, seniors remain in their homes, a visible part of the social spectrum.
Yet, one barrier remains inhibiting seniors from fully experiencing their power. That barrier is ageism – the ingrained belief that seniors are less capable, less “with it,” less resilient than their younger peers. Regrettably, many seniors believe that about themselves. Ageism undermines the reality of senior accomplishments and abilities. We fail to acknowledge that if someone has lived a long productive life, he or she probably has been doing something right and experience worth sharing.
Ageism fails to acknowledge that seniors are quite adaptable, having lived through multiple technological and social changes in their lifetimes. Many feel perfectly at home with computers, iPads, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and whatever other new media you can think of. They were born into a century of unleashed technological power and they adapted to it. Our misplaced assumptions about older people prevents us and them from realizing their full potential.
Consider this: aging begins the day we are born. At every age, we unleash the power of age.