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Beyond Picnics, Parades and Potlucks

Kevyn Burger May 7, 2018
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Harnessing the Impact of Older Americans Month

May is a very good month to be aging in northwestern Nevada. In honor of Older Americans Month, observed every year in May, the city of Reno and Washoe County are promoting an extensive calendar of daily events and activities for their older residents.

“We are fortunate to have a large community of retirees, many arriving from other states,” said Donna Clontz, chair of Reno’s Senior Citizen Advisory Committee. “We have great programs that newcomers don’t know about. So we decided to throw a month-long party to show them off.”

That includes free or reduced price activities including an old car show, minor league baseball games, tai chi and self defense classes, and free days at a theater and four museums.

Across the nation, Older Americans Month presents an opportunity for businesses, nonprofits and agencies that serve the aging population to connect with current or prospective clients, customers and constituents, sometimes for the first time.

When Older Americans Month began in 1963 as Senior Citizens Month, there were 17 million Americans over 65; today there are 50 million, a population that has grown in diversity as well as size.

“This dynamic is changing our nation. We need to look at new and exciting ways to involve this population. This is our chance to celebrate their accomplishments and the programs that enrich their lives,” said Edwin Walker, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Aging of the Administration on Aging, which sponsors Older Americans Month.

To help communities get on board for the month of May, the federal agency offers the free use of branded graphics and posters in English and Spanish with this year’s theme, Engage at Every Age, as well as sample proclamations and a suggested list of social media strategies, activities and events.

While this May brings a flurry of Senior Expos and Health and Wellness Fairs manned by social service agencies and vendors handing out logo’d tchotchkes, there are a wide range of out-of-the-box events hooked to Older Americans Month.

In Manchester, New Hampshire, the YMCA is offering seniors seven free visits for workouts and group wellness classes. A program in Fountain City in Southern California connects local teens to seniors needing guidance with technology. An art show in New Haven, Connecticut shows off more than 100 works by senior artists.

Nationally, Kmart pharmacies are partnering with the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America to conduct memory screenings throughout the month, offering a free non-invasive test.

“Being in the business of serving this community, I want people to recognize that we are here. We participate in activities to show our involvement and commitment,” said Robert Stelletello, owner of Right at Home, a non-medical in-home health care agency in suburban Chicago. “If your business is with older people, why wouldn’t you be part of Older Americans Month?” he asked.

But not everyone is jumping on the bandwagon.

Dan Michel, CEO of Dakim BrainFitness, distances his business from Older Americans Month, even though his computer-based brain fitness programs were developed for the longevity market. Since Michel founded the company in 2001, it has sold software to senior living communities on a business-to-business basis. As it expanded, the company started selling its online regimen of brain games directly to consumers who skew younger. The pitch on the company’s website features a beaming, athletic looking woman who appears to be in late middle age.

“Younger boomers don’t like to think of themselves as older Americans. Being associated with anything like that is a turnoff,” said Michel. “They’d be repulsed rather than attracted by that language. Hey, I’m 72 and I wouldn’t go to anything for older Americans.”

 

Like every president since Kennedy, Donald Trump signed a proclamation that declares May as Older Americans Month. It urges all citizens to use the month to pay tribute to the older people in their communities, and reaffirms the country’s commitment to older Americans this month and throughout the year.

In Reno, the civic effort to spotlight the concerns and contributions of older residents is geared at boosting their quality of life after the month ends.

“We want people to try something, learn something, maybe meet someone new,” said Donna Clontz. “This gets us socializing and gets us out of the house. We know that keeps us healthy and happy.”

Kevyn Burger

Kevyn Burger is an award-winning freelance writer and radio producer. A Minneapolis resident, she is the mother of three young adults and one rescue terrier.

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