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What's in a name -- Older Americans Month and other changes
May is Older Americans (not Senior Citizens) Month. The Administration on Aging notes that this 'acknowledgement of the contribution of older Americans' was launched in 1963. Prior to 1980, it was known as Senior Citizen Month, but was renamed and became a 'tradition' during the Carter Administration. Looking through the list of themes, some seem to be efforts to acknowledge the forgotten: "America, a Community for All Ages" and "Honor the Past, Imagine the Future: Towards a Society for All Ages". But today the term "senior citizen" has been erased by the AoA and the theme "Age Strong, Live Long," reflecte lengthening life span and unprecedented multiple generations of 'older Americans'. Assuming that 'senior' is 65+, there will be 71.5 million by 2030 -- life span and baby boomer encroachment are driving other changes as well...
...'Senior Centers' may be renamed or closed by budget cuts. From Activity Center to Boomer Cafes to Recreation and Senior Centers to XYZ Center (drop the Senior), the senior center moniker may be gone in just a few years, one location at a time. Already faced with an expanding longevity age spread, from the heel-kicking 60-somethings to 90-somethings, activity planning and events will become ever more challenging over time. At budget risk in their current form, I can imagine new combined centers that recognize a side effect of longevity: Those who can no longer come in the door might appreciate the availability of telephone programs, or welcome television variants like this one in Iowa City or the Microsoft-enabled 'virtual' senior center, or centers that partner with SeniorNet or community colleges that offer online learning programs.
...'Nursing homes' must rename and reach beyond their doorways. In this McKnight's blog post, the writer is dismayed to attend an event sponsored by NCOA (the umbrella organization for senior centers): his observation -- that long-term care is not mentioned -- in favor of 'aging in place' and care delivered into the home. Wording was intriguing -- "people seem to want to will the profession out of existance." No kidding. In the past few years, the nursing home term has been surveyed as 'a fear worse than death' and all kinds of efforts are being made to promote alternatives and 'extend the brand' into home care service delivery and other community-based programs. But forcing the industry into reinvention requires other organizations to pick up the slack. Are they ready, with the oldest and frailest at risk staying far too long in their independent living apartments and private homes, to home care agency franchises that must grapple with staff morale, training, support and management?
... A rose by any other name? The Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC) is also up for a reinvention period (how about 'resort' or cruise ship?) Welcome to the confusion of vendors and service providers about who their target audience is and what their product or service is named. Do organizations that sold to CCRCs now target condominium managers? Should tech vendors approach area agencies on aging? Are we entering a period in which consumers of product and service messaging are going to be increasingly baffled about where to find what?
And renaming and morphing may miss some 'older Americans'. In our out-with-the-old-identity world, some are undoubtedly going to be lost in the shuffle. Without nursing homes or accessible senior centers in the new renamed world one, will some 'older Americans' who are aging into their third decade drop out of sight into poverty and neglect? Add family at a distance and consider that the prior generation's nursing home may have morphed away, replaced by expensive assisted living or a patchwork of services brought into the home that leave these older Americans without social connections (and maybe meals and ADL support) throughout most of their day.
In honor of May and 'older Americans'. Before they're all morphed away, this month of May could be a good time to salute those senior centers, nursing homes, and CCRCs that retain their identity and try their utmost to serve people who everyone agrees really are 'seniors' and who are the oldest or frailest of older Americans -- and who need all the help and connections they can get.