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Successful Aging: Celebrating Older Americans Month and the benefits of aging

Dear Readers,

Older adults are taking center stage, not as members of a dance troupe, chorale or symphony, but to be featured performers for Older Americans Month. And that month is May.

This year’s theme is “Age out Loud,” a take-off on the acronym LOL, meaning laugh out loud in Internet communications. According to the Administration for Community Living, the theme gives aging a new voice highlighting important issues and trends. We know that older Americans are working longer, trying new things and engaging in their communities. They’re striving for wellness, focusing on independence, and advocating for themselves and others. They expect to live their lives with boldness, confidence and passion.

This formal recognition of older Americans began with President John F. Kennedy in 1963 when he designated May as “Senior Citizens Month” during a meeting with the National Council of Senior Citizens. That was when only 17 million Americans reached their 65th birthday in comparison to over 40 million today. About one third of those 17 million lived in poverty with few programs to meet their needs. In 1980, President Jimmy Carter changed the name to Older Americans Month. Two years later, in 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson passed the Older Americans Act and formally declared May as Older Americans Month.

This special month is an opportunity to recognize and celebrate what getting older looks like today. And it’s looking pretty good. The stereotype of older adults as passive, depressed, living in a nursing home, disinterested in the opposite sex, rigid, unproductive or uncreative is being shattered.

We know the following:

Older adults strive for wellness: More fitness centers for older adults are popping up in the U.S. One example is SilverSneakers, a fitness program for people over age 65 that offers fitness club memberships, fitness classes and other resources that encourage physical activity. About 65 Medicare health plans offer the SilverSneakers program as a benefit with 13,000 locations throughout the U.S. If interested, see

Older adults stay engaged: This means being involved in some activity that has meaning. Engagement provides benefits of social connections, having a sense of accomplishment and purpose. Being engaged can involve play and can meet the needs and desires for cognitive and physical stimulation. The opportunities for engagement are endless; they include volunteering, having an encore career, painting, taking care of grandchildren, inventing, running for office and mentoring, to name a few.

Older adults explore new things: One example is Road Scholar, a nonprofit organization that inspires adults to learn, discover and travel. It has been referred to as the university of the world. Programs are designed as learning adventures that enrich, thrill and challenge. Road Scholar offers 5500 different adventures that accommodate approximately 100,000 people annually traveling throughout North America and around the world. They offer 156 intergenerational trips to make lasting memories with grandchildren that include learning about marine life in Hawaii, discovering Paris or searching for dinosaur fossils in Utah.

Aging Out Loud

Looking through recent publications of “AARP The Magazine” gives one a sense of what aging out loud means. Take the people in the cover photos, for example: Morgan Freeman is age 79; Helen Mirren, age 71; Warren Beatty, age 80, Cyndi Lauper, age 63 and the trio on one cover of Alfre Woodard (64), Jane Fonda (79) and Sharon Stone (59). They are making a statement about what aging looks like (sometimes with a little help). Yet what aging looks like goes beyond physical appearances. The feature stories and ads offer another dimension. Articles on the Best Movies for the 50-plus, a piece on voice-activated controls for one’s home and finding retreat centers for yoga and meditation reflect aging out loud stories and interests.

Note: Not everyone has the capacity or means to shout from the rooftop, “It’s a great time to be older.” Losses are part of aging. Yet older adults are described the happiest of all generations and continue to demonstrate resilience. Let’s embrace the concept of aging out loud, showing pride in years lived, what we have done and continue to do with this gift of time — and applaud others who have done the same.

Send emails to Helen Dennis at, or go to

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