by Kathy Greenlee, Assistant Secretary for Aging and Administrator of ACL
During the month of May, our nation observes Older Americans Month. This tradition dates back to 1963 when President John F. Kennedy encouraged Americans to celebrate the contributions and sacrifices of older people with a month-long commemoration.
Within two years, this annual tribute was translated into action through the passage of the Older Americans Act (OAA). For nearly half a century, the OAA has helped older adults stay healthy, live independent lives, and remain physically and socially engaged. And along the way, Older Americans Month has given us a means of publicly honoring our older population, while raising awareness about issues that affect them.
This year, injury prevention is the focus of Older Americans Month. The theme, “Safe Today. Healthy Tomorrow,” could not be more relevant.
Every year, nearly 30,000 older Americans die due to accidental injuries. Falls are the leading cause of injury among older adults. In fact, about a third of older Americans experience a fall each year. Other common injuries that older Americans are at risk for are brain injury, abuse, neglect, and suicide. Fortunately, most of these tragedies can be prevented with the right interventions and education.
That is why the work of the OAA is so critical. An estimated 11 million older Americans benefit from OAA-funded services though a national aging services network of state and area agencies, tribal organizations, and local providers.
Thanks to efficient channels of distribution, money provided by the OAA goes a long way. In fact, while funding for the OAA has not increased in the past decade, our agency, in partnership with the national aging services network, has continuously found ways to help a growing population of aging Americans stay independent, active, and engaged. We do that by focusing on the following areas:
- Nutrition. Hunger is a real issue for our nation’s older population. In 2011 nearly 2.5 million people were fed either through home delivered meals or community programs.
- Home- and community-based services. For many people, “aging in place” would not be possible without OAA-funded home care, adult day services, case management, home modifications, transportation, and health education.
- Elder abuse prevention and justice. Elder abuse is disturbingly common. We are committed to doing everything possible to investigate cases of abuse and protect older Americans from harm.
- Caregiver support. Unpaid family caregivers provide an estimated $450 billion worth of care to loved ones annually. The OAA supports those people through caregiver counseling and respite programs.
- Employment. For many older people, a leisurely retirement is simply not an option. OAA funding has helped more than a million older Americans find jobs.
These efforts are making a big difference in the lives of many older adults. But there is still more work to be done. Many programs, like nutrition services and some respite care programs, depend on volunteers. Finding a little time to contribute amidst the busyness of modern life can be difficult, but even small contributions can have a big impact.
So this month, as we honor our nation’s older Americans, please also consider how you can contribute to their safety and wellbeing. You can volunteer in a formal program, or just reach out to neighbors and offer a helping hand. It can be something as simple as bringing an older person a meal or asking them about the daily challenges they face.
Together, we can ensure all older Americans stay safe today, for a healthy tomorrow.