In May 1963, President John F. Kennedy launched the first monthlong celebration of older Americans.  Even then, with only 16 million people aged 65 years or older living in the United States, JFK knew the value of honoring older Americans, celebrating their contributions to our communities and our nation.  Now more than ever we have reason to celebrate older adults. They play a vital, positive role in our communities as family members, friends, mentors, volunteers, civic leaders, and members of the workforce.

This May, in launching the celebration of Older Americans Month, we explore its theme of Age My Way, and the various ways older adults can be supported in their desire to stay in their homes, otherwise known as aging in place, to live independently in their communities for as long as possible.

There is no one way or right way to live into our sixties and beyond. Living situations are so varied. In 2020, more than half (61%) of older adults, individuals age 65 and older, lived with their spouse or partner, and 27% lived alone. Almost 15 percent of the workforce, or 6.4 million workers, was age 60 or older. And only 5% of older adults lived in nursing homes, even as another 25% will at some point use the services of a residential facility or nursing home.

But how older adults are able to age in place is impacted by the reality of financial solvency. In 2019, 4.9 million older Americans lived below the poverty level, and another 2.6 million were “near-poor,” according to the Administration for Community Living (ACL). The highest poverty rates were experienced among older Hispanic women who lived alone (32.1%) and older African American women who lived alone (31.7%). In 2019, 45% of older householders spent one-third or more of their income on housing costs:

ACL was formed with the specific focus to support older adults, and people of all ages with disabilities, to live “where they choose, with the people they choose, and with the ability to participate fully in their communities.” The Council on Aging of Central Oregon (CoA) partners with ACL and others to uphold this singular commitment to help older adults navigate the path of aging.

We also believe that aging is a community responsibility. After contributing to our local communities, Central Oregon’s older adults deserve to be able to remain in the counties they helped build. The seniors in our community shouldn’t have to wonder how they will eat or when they will next converse with someone if they choose to live at home.

We are committed to promoting the physical, emotional, and social well-being by providing the layers of support our seniors need to thrive and age in the place of their choosing. Our help desk connects older adults and their loved ones to information and services that support our client’s changing needs and desire to age their way.

Services our older adults can access include:

Food resources. Meals on Wheels offers nutritious meals and a wellness check to homebound seniors. In addition, Grab-N-Go lunches are served several times a week at various meal sites throughout the tri-county.

Counseling resources. Options Counseling listens, assesses, creates a plan, and offers options for moving forward on the aging path.

Social resources. Caring Connections provides a weekly phone call to our older adults from volunteers who provide friendly conversation and a wellness check.

Legal resources. The Legal Assistance Program makes legal counsel available to seniors on an appointment basis. The Council on Aging also provides information on elder fraud and abuse so that seniors can be aware of potential risks.

These are just a few ways we help seniors in Central Oregon plan, engage, modify their living situation, and connect to live their best life as they age in place.

By recognizing the value of older Americans, we fuel our spirit of collaboration, our work to support the older adults in our lives, and intergenerational appreciation for the diversity of our communities.

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