Celebrating Older Americans Month AN IMPORTANT OBSERVANCE
It may not be printed on everyone’s calendars, but May is Older Americans Month, an observance I believe deserves more attention. As someone who works with many people over the age of 65, I’m well aware of the unique challenges this age group can face and the abuses that are, sadly, often committed against them. These are the seldom-discussed issues that Older Americans Month was intended to highlight. Ironically, one of our nation’s youngest presidents to brought this observance into existence. In 1963, John F. Kennedy met with the National Council of Senior Citizens to discuss issues facing their community. According to the Administration for Community Living (ACL), only 17 million Americans lived past age 65 in Kennedy’s day, and many lived in poverty. Recognizing the needs of this underserved group, the 35th president of the United States designated May as Senior Citizens Month, which would later become the Older Americans Month we know today. Yet, despite every president since Kennedy making a note of the occasion, most people still don’t know Older Americans Month exists. This is a shame, since the ACL estimates that 49.2 million Americans were age 65 or over in 2016, and that number has only grown since then. Having a day to celebrate such a significant part of our population is the least we can do. In fact, every year, the ACL assigns Older Americans Day a theme to help focus celebrations and highlight certain issues. This year’s theme is Make Your Mark, selected to “encourage and celebrate countless contributions that older adults make to our communities.” As someone who has been blown away by the achievements, work, and hobbies of his older clients over the years, I couldn’t be happier with this choice. Recognizing the legacy, accomplishments, value, and ongoing
contributions of our elders is deeply important. But beyond this, it’s also crucial that we recognize the unique dangers this group faces. Elder abuse is a rampant yet often unnoticed issue in this country. From those who take advantage of an older person’s physical or cognitive disabilities to those who neglect their physical and/or emotional needs, there are many abusers out there — some who don’t even realize how harmful their actions are. It can be as simple as losing your temper with an elder or failing to fully understand their wishes before acting on their behalf. But regardless of whether the abuse is done intentionally or not, it’s still wrong and is still a crime. Worse, elder abuse can be extremely difficult to spot. Whether because they fear retaliation or because they are physically or cognitively unable to communicate, an older loved one may not bring up the abuse themselves. Still, there are signs if you know where to look. According to the National Institute on Aging, if an elder is depressed, withdrawn, isolated, has unexplained wounds, appears under- or over-medicated, shows signs of neglect (such as bed sores), or has recently changed their spending patterns, you should contact Adult Protective Services or the police. We’ve had to make more than a few of these calls ourselves in the past when we notice our clients are being taken advantage of. We should all do our part to protect our elders from the trauma of abuse. If you do one thing this Older Americans Month, make it familiarizing yourself with these signs and committing to making the world a little safer for those in need. Happy Older Americans Month,
Do you have estate planning or elder law-related questions? Write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org with “Asked and Answered” in the subject line. Your identity will be kept confidential. The opinions offered in this column are not intended to replace or substitute any financial, medical, legal, or other professional advice.
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