A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Jeff Rubin: Some principles for consideration as we celebrate National Older Americans Month

“A nation is judged on the basis of how it treats, its least, its, last, its littlest,” is a phrase I’ve often quoted over the years because it speaks to the heart of inclusion, respect, and human value. This citation has been attributed to many authors over the years, from Henry Ford to Harry Truman to Mahatma Gandhi, to name a few. It has been applied in pursuit of several noble causes. I’d like to take this opportunity to apply it to one more.

May is National Older Americans Month, a time set aside to honor the many ways older citizens have enriched our nation as well as our community. Yet, even though Older Americans Month has been proclaimed by every President since John F. Kennedy, there are still many people alive today who say they’ve never heard of it.

In 1963, when the idea first came to fruition, only 17 million Americans were age 65 or older, about a third of whom lived in poverty. Today, there are more than 40.3 million of us, with some 15% still living in poverty, and others barely squeaking by. By 2050, demographers expect those 65 and over to reach 88.5 million or roughly 20 percent of the overall population.

Despite this tremendous shift, far too many communities have yet to prepare for the impact already being felt today.

There are several reasons for this, not the least of which is denial. Instead of embracing age, too many among us see it as a period of decline where value and worth are questioned, and dreams of a “next chapter” are either discouraged, dashed or ignored. My own experience over the years leads me to believe that too many people still see the elderly as people who only receive services rather than people who are infinitely capable of providing them for themselves and others. It is this mindset that has limited our thinking in planning for the future.

Unfortunately, ageism is prevalent throughout our society. Yet the term is often misapplied. Used primarily to describe discrimination against “older” people, it is in fact, the stereotyping and discrimination against any individual or group based solely on age. The term, in fact, paints a broad brush in determining the human value at both ends of the spectrum, as it marginalizes the young as well as the old. This is particularly disconcerting when decisions being made often exclude the people being impacted.

As a tribute to this year’s Older Americans Month and its theme, “Engage at Every Age,” I’d like to put forth my own set of principles for your consideration.

• Honor the right of every individual to be treated with dignity and respect regardless of their age, ability, station, or income

• Take stock in the abundance of human capital available to us at every season of a person’s life

• Empower those whose insights, experience, and wisdom are seldom sought or rarely heard

• Promote inter-generational dialogue, planning, and action on issues impacting the quality of life for people of all ages

• Protect the safety and well-being of older people to live out their lives without having to make a choice between food or medication, or the fear of becoming isolated or alone

Consider them a benchmark for anyone you know who’s growing old.

Jeff Rubin is a consultant on community and aging issues and the author of Wisdom of Age. Having spent over 20 years as a director and facilitator of community service programs at the local, state and national levels, he is today an advocate for “Age-friendly” and “Livable” communities, Mr. Rubin is currently working to advance these initiatives statewide in Kentucky and invites your comments, involvement, and support. He can be reached at Jeffrubin515@gmail.com.

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