Imagine how our community would look if we embraced Aging Unbound. What if we all saw each of our neighbors as individuals with unique experiences and stories to share?
Since 1963, every May we celebrate National Older Americans Month (OAM). This is a time to honor older adults in our community. But it can be so much more. This year’s theme, Aging Unbound, asks us all to celebrate diverse aging experiences and work against ageist stereotypes.
The San Antonio metro area is home to more than 250,000 people over 65. In the 19th and 20th centuries, Western countries chose 65 to 70 as “retirement age.” In the last few decades, we have often used a lower mark of 60 the transitional phase into “older adulthood.”
Yet these numbers were historically based on life expectancies, not function. Relatively modern societal norms allow (at times, even encourage) us to write off, or at least diminish, someone’s usefulness based on their age. This prejudice and the subsequent discriminations, called “ageism,” is no better than other isms (e.g., racism, anti-Semitism, sexism).
I do not mean to dismiss the unique changes all humans have as their bodies and minds move through all stages of life. Some our abilities from birth to death are a bell curve – thus the term “over the hill.” But we tend to only find interest in perceived outliers. The internet is full of stories of 90-year-olds running marathons and an 80-year-old who learns piano for the first time. But we treat these as anomalies, even marvels. Instead, we should be interested in all the experiences of older adults.
I have had the honor of sitting with hundreds of older adults in my career as a social worker and aging life care manager. One woman in a wheelchair would forget her own children’s names yet spoke clearly and proudly of breaking barriers in college playing volleyball. A gentleman living in a small apartment, whose family had forgotten him, told vivid and melancholic stories of marching with civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr.
I have been blessed hearing all manner of stories from housewives, coal miners and even victims of abuse. All these stories are from people who are complex and multifaceted. They combine to create the tapestry of San Antonio, South Texas and beyond.
During the month of May (and beyond!), I urge you, dear reader, to do something extraordinary. Meet an older adult (all races, religions and sexes) and talk with them – really talk with them. Take a walk with an older neighbor. Enroll in a multi-generational class at Buhl Haus Arts, or volunteer with Meals On Wheels.
There are many small (or big) ways we can all work toward a culturally diverse and age-friendly San Antonio. For more ideas, check out AARP, the City of San Antonio Department of Human Services, and, of course, our Successful Aging and Living in San Antonio (SALSA), a collective impact initiative of the San Antonio Area Foundation. The Area Foundation also focuses on improving the quality of life for older adults through its Successful Aging grantmaking impact area.
San Antonio is known for its diverse and friendly people. Let’s work together to ensure we are all Aging Unbound!
Byron Cordes is the President of Sage Care Management, a member organization of the San Antonio Area Foundation’s Successfully Living and Aging in San Antonio (SALSA) coalition. This article is part of the Area Foundation’s monthly SALSA Spotlight Series.