Senior Power: Older Americans Month

By Helen Rippier Wheeler
Monday April 18, 2011 - 10:58:00 AM

Older Americans Month is coming up in May. It “pays homage to the many ways in which older adults bring inspiration and continuity to the fabric of our communities, and highlights how technology is helping older Americans live longer, healthier, and more engaged lives.” Thanks to President Carter's 1980 designation, it is now called Older Americans Month, and it has become a tradition. Each year the Administration on Aging issues a theme to assist the National Aging Services Network plan May activities. This year’s is Older Americans: Connecting the Community. 

When Older Americans Month was established in 1963, there were few programs to meet their needs. Only 17 million living Americans had reached age 65. About a third lived in poverty. Historically, it has been a time to acknowledge the contributions of past and current older persons, in particular those who defended our country. A glance at some previous themes is informative for they may reflect the times, and sometimes euphemistically avoid them. In 1978 the emphasis was on Older Americans and the Family. In 1997, Caregiving: Compassion in Action. In 2003, What We Do Makes A Difference. And last year, Age Strong! Live Long! 

The metaphor for happiness is youth. Advertisers sell images of happiness and well-being. Consider TV commercials’ biased role assignments, stereotypes and image distortion. Senior groups, service providers, and academics in the United States and Canada note that ageism can be a factor in elder abuse. 

The cautious health system, allied with pharmaceutical companies, imposes consulting family members, although demographics of aging clearly show that old people often do not have families. Possibly, they are happily single, never married, widowed… Moreover, many have never been parents, let alone grandparents. 

One’s image can influence the way a person sees her or himself. It can also impact opportunities for employment, pension income, legal equity and health. The way a society (the dominant culture) perceives a person or a group of people can restrict and assign them to certain roles. A term coined in France described the period of active old age as the ‘third age,’ following the ‘first age’ of childhood and youth and the ‘second age’ of adult maturity. The later, less active and independent phase of life was the ‘fourth age.’ 

The number of conferences about aging and gerontology scheduled worldwide in the next few months is impressive. A few examples: 

The 2nd Asian Congress of Medical and Care Facilities. Busan Korea (South); 

Retirement Communities World Australia 2011. Sydney Australia; 

Neurology Update 2011: Practical Information for the Primary Care Provider. Sacramento; 

Retirement Asia Expo 2011. Singapore; 

Growing Old in a Changing Climate. Vancouver Canada; 

Answers On Aging. Washington D.C.; 

Sexuality, Intimacy and Aging: What Every Professional Needs to Know, Widener University Pennsylvania; 

4th Pan American Congress of Gerontology and Geriatrics, Ottawa Canada. 

More information, and links to conference sites, are available at: 

Conferences about aging are a good thing, but how’s about by and for and aged persons? Third Age members are not usually actively involved in aging-related professional/academic meetings and conferences, etc. Aging and Society: An Interdisciplinary Conference will be held at the University of California, Berkeley, in November, focusing on practice, research and theory. This is not a free occasion (although there is a student discount). Like most conferences, aged persons may be the subjects but not audience or participant. 


The Older Americans Act of 1965 was the first federal initiative providing comprehensive services for older adults. It created the National Aging Network comprising the Administration on Aging on the federal level, state units, and area agencies on aging at the local level. The Network provides funding — based primarily on the percentage of an area's 60 and older population — for nutrition and supportive home and community-based services, disease prevention/health promotion services, elder rights programs, the National Family Caregiver Support Program, and the Native American Caregiver Support Program. It aimed to provide assistance in the development of new or improved programs to help older persons through grants to the states for community planning and services and for training, through research, development, or training project grants, and to establish within the then-Department of Health, Education, and Welfare an operating agency to be designated as the Administration on Aging. 

In 2006 Congress reauthorized the Act through FY 2011. In March 2011, the U.S. Government Accountability Office released its report, "Older Americans Act: More Should Be Done to Measure the Extent of Unmet Need for Services" (GAO-11-237), is available online. 


The Act consists of seven Titles. It is within Title III that congregate nutrition and meals on wheels are mandated. Locally — Albany, Berkeley, Emeryville — congregate nutrition refers to hot meals provided at senior centers for persons who are 60 years of age and older for a $3.00 “suggested donation.” Meals on Wheels aims to deliver to homebound seniors who are 60 years of age or older and unable to prepare a balanced meal themselves or who have no one available to prepare a meal for them for a $4.00 “suggested contribution.” Currently, meals are prepared by Project Open Hand with Title III Older American Act Funds administered through the Alameda [County] Area Agency on Aging. 

Title IV creates a number of specific projects related to the objectives of the Act. These include healthcare service in rural areas, computer training, civic engagement, and Native American programs. Title V establishes a program for engaging low-income senior citizens in community service employment and volunteer opportunities. 

Title VII creates state grants for "vulnerable elder rights protection" programs. In 1992, Congress created and funded a new Title VII Chapter 3 for prevention of abuse, neglect, and exploitation. Title VII Vulnerable Elder Rights Protection also includes provisions for long-term care ombudsman programs and state legal assistance development. In 2000, provisions were added to Title VII to encourage states to foster greater coordination with law enforcement and the courts. Amendments added new language to Titles II and VII emphasizing multi-disciplinary and collaborative approaches to addressing elder mistreatment when developing programs and long-term strategic plans for elder justice activities. For the first time, “elder justice” and “self-neglect” were defined. Provision is included for a legal services developer in each state to serve as a focal point at the state level for all aspects relating to coordinating the provision of legal services for the elderly. 

The Older Americans Act is vital to the health and well-being of older adults, yet it includes no mention of LGBT elders. (LGBT refers collectively to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people.) Their profound challenges are detailed in the policy brief filed by SAGE (Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders), "LGBT Older Adults and Reauthorization of the Older Americans Act." It offers five recommendations to ensure that the Act becomes responsive to LGBT aging communities. SAGE is the only LGBT organization on the Leadership Council of Aging Organizations, a 65-member association comprising the country's leading aging organizations, which has released its official "Consensus Recommendations for the 2011 Older Americans Act Reauthorization;" it includes eight recommendations specific to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender elders, as well as racially and ethnically diverse elders, and older adults with HIV/AIDS. 

The fifth White House Conference on Aging was held in December 2005 in Washington, D.C. . Like its predecessors, its purpose was to make recommendations to the President and Congress to help guide national aging policies for the next ten years and beyond. Its theme was The Booming Dynamics of Aging: From Awareness to Action, focused on the aging of today and tomorrow, including the 78 million baby boomers who began to turn 60 in January 2006. The top two resolutions adopted by the delegates were reauthorization of the Older Americans Act and the development of a coordinated and comprehensive long term care strategy. 



Thursday, May 5, 2011. 1:30 P.M. Consumer Fraud: Scams Targeting Seniors. Albany Library, 1247 Marin Av. Has parking lot (510 526-3720). Tips for Protection and Prevention. A free workshop by Legal Assistance for Seniors (LAS). No reservations required; refreshments. Wheelchair accessible. More information and other Alameda County library branches’ dates for this program at Library Senior Services (510) 745-1491. 


Helen Rippier Wheeler can be reached at Please, no email attachments or phone calls.