Older American on a ramp.

Celebrating Older Americans Month 2024

As the average age across the population in the United States increases, there’s a growing push to recognize the needs and contributions of that group. Each May, the Administration for Community Living celebrates Older Americans Month. As an organization, its mission is to support the independence and inclusion of older adults in the community. No matter someone’s age or the difference in mobility that age may bring, older adults have the right to live independently and make choices about their lives. Instead of assuming a lack of ability or capacity, we should treat older adults as we would anyone else with agency. With nearly 20% of people in the United States being over the age of 65, it’s important to talk about the rights and needs of these individuals. Older Americans Month is a focused effort to stay in front of the biases and barriers elderly adults face.

What Is Older Americans Month About? 

The purpose of Older Americans Month is to bring awareness to the knowledge, skills, and abilities of older individuals. As we age, there are a host of problems we face, including discrimination, health decline, loss of independence, and isolation. One pillar of Older Americans Month is highlighting these areas and providing support as well as resources to address the problems. Older Americans Month emphasizes discussing trends in the aging population to enhance awareness and information about issues or needs. The advocacy that this month champions creates commitment from our communities to play a role in taking care of elderly individuals.

For 2024, the Administration for Community Living set the theme of “Powered by Connection” to emphasize the importance of meaningful relationships on human well-being. Our physical and mental health are profoundly affected by our ability to interact with others. For seniors, that interaction can quickly become limited. Whether it’s a diminishing peer group due to mortality, isolation arising from the physical inability to leave the home, or the loss of built-in socialization as a result of retirement, it’s common for older adults to lack interactions. Being connected to others has shown a profound positive impact on the isolation and loneliness that contribute to a host of issues. We need to help aging individuals stay connected with the world, and May is a reminder of that.

How to Celebrate Older Americans Month

Taking part in Older Americans Month begins with knowledge and action. Familiarize yourself with the health benefits that come from social connections. There are a host of physical, mental, and emotional positives that we gain when we are able to interact with others. Whether it’s short conversations with someone at a restaurant or spending time with others at a community group, interaction satisfies a deep-seated need to take part in the lives of others and have others take part in your life. It’s also been linked to longer lifespans, fewer health conditions, and a lower risk of depression. Socialization has the accessory benefit of increased physical activity, as we tend to be more active to take part in engaging with others.

We can also help elevate resources that allow older individuals to access these interactions. A large part of the isolation that occurs with aging is centered around the limited ability to leave the home. This can be due to health issues, inability to drive, not having a job to go to, or living in an area where public transportation is limited. Programs exist to help bridge the gap in all of these areas, but they can be difficult to navigate if you don’t know where to look. Helping to connect older adults to these programs is a prime example of how you can facilitate increased interaction. This includes programs that provide social services for aging adults and give guidance on healthcare, finances, and other resources. Helping address these gaps has a carryover effect on the rest of their well-being, including their motivation and ability to get out in the world. For those older individuals who are physically able to leave their homes but feel disconnected without a vocation to go to, we should be highlighting community settings like social clubs, local classes held through parks and rec, and volunteer organizations. Taking actions as simple as checking on your neighbor and chatting on the porch for a few minutes can make a difference in their life. Communities can celebrate Older Americans Month by hosting events or programs that focus on connecting older adults to their communities. Whether through mentorship programs for youth, activity or interest groups with peers, or senior sports leagues, there are so many ways to help create space for the elderly to connect with others.

It’s also important to ensure that the physical barriers to social interaction are addressed. As we age, our mobility can change, leading to dependence on devices like wheelchairs and walkers. Many homes were not constructed to accommodate these devices, especially at the exits. If unable to maneuver the device to even get outside, the ability to physically leave the home is impossible and prevents participation in the world. This is where important equipment like wheelchair ramps is a necessity. Something like an aluminum access ramp may be the only thing between being homebound and being able to make it to church or a community center. Older adults may not be aware of how to obtain this type of equipment or may be unable to afford it and not know there are assistance programs to help. It’s important we continue to advocate for these individuals and connect them to assistance where possible to get them the equipment they need. They deserve to be able to leave their home, and it's our responsibility as citizens and neighbors to lend a hand.

We can also support the initiatives of the Administration for Community Living by educating ourselves on the bias and stigmas we have around elderly Americans. It’s not uncommon in professional settings for older adults to be pushed aside, assumed to be incapable or unable to keep up with current ways. Older adults continue to contribute significantly to the workplace, both as individual contributors and as leaders. Discrimination based on age is a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, but that doesn’t mean it never happens. As part of Older Americans Month, take a mental inventory of your own perceptions and try to reframe how you think of aging people.

Creating Inclusive Communities 

There is a higher rate of mobility device use in older adults. As we age, our balance and ability to get around can be affected, leading to the use of devices for support. Out in public, accommodating environments and surfaces help make it easier to use these devices so that users can be a part of everyday life. Access solutions create inclusive spaces that don’t impede mobility devices. Wheelchair ramps eliminate the barrier presented by stairs, handrails offer extra stability, and threshold plates diminish tripping hazards. By implementing these solutions in buildings, we provide the chance for older adults to enter spaces that may otherwise exclude them.

Business owners and facility managers can do their part in evolving their spaces by implementing accessibility modifications where possible. As part of Older Americans Month, perform an inspection of your workplace, business, or facility to take stock of whether the environment invites older adults to play a part. Consider the pathways they need to take and the actions required to navigate or engage in the area. If you find stairs or uneven surfaces that may be difficult for an older adult to use, look to accessible design solutions from EZ-ACCESS®. Aluminum ramps, transition plates, and handrails create safer spaces for anyone but are especially helpful to the aging population.

EZ-ACCESS is proud to be an advocate for inclusivity in every environment. This doesn’t end with physical accessibility but extends to advocating for the elderly and disabled in all ways. Join us in celebrating Older Americans Month to create a world everyone can take part in.

Coming Full Circle: Making a Home Accessible for an EZ-ACCESS Team Member

Tips for Maintaining Ramps and Other Accessibility Solutions