Celebrating the Value of Older Adults in Our Community

DETROIT, April 29 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The following is being submitted by Karen Schrock, President & CEO, Adult Well-Being Services, April 2008:

May is Older Americans Month, a perfect time to reflect upon the value of older adults to our community.

At the same time that medical improvements over the past decade enable us to grow older and healthier, there is an alarming trend of devaluing older adults.

Our region will have twice as many people age 65 and older by 2030. We are not prepared for this "age wave." Aging issues are ignored even all of us depend upon older adults for support, care and stability.

Resources for older people are shrinking in large part due to ageism. We live in a youth-focused society. Older adults are often seen as dependent, helpless, unproductive and demanding rather than deserving and contributing.

Ageism is doctors who dismiss their older patients' concerns about depression as a "normal part of aging." It is not.

Ageism is believing that older people do not have sex (they do) while rates of HIV/AIDS increase among heterosexual adults age 50 and over.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reports that age-discrimination complaints have risen by 24% over the past two years, in part because employees over the age of 40 are considered "old" and not offered the same training, promotion opportunities and pay as their younger colleagues. Less money is dedicated to programs for older people because of the ageist view that benefits may be minimal or short-lived.

Yet aging is a universal issue that affects the entire community. As we face the increasing number of retiring baby boomers, we need to confront our perceptions of aging. We can begin by understanding how older adults enrich us.

Older adults contribute time, skills and experience to improve people's lives. Sarah, a 70-year-old retired occupational therapist, formed a support group for families of adults with developmental disabilities. Three days a week, she teaches living and communication skills to adults with developmental disabilities.

Gene, in his 60s, has been in recovery from substance abuse and mental illness for more than a year. He obtained a peer support specialist certificate. Now he works part time, helping others to understand the need for compliance with their medications and recovery from mental illness.

Hattie, an 80-year-old grandmother is raising her teenage grandson. She has a wit and vibrancy that belies her age. She is one of more than 17,000 grandparents raising grandchildren in Detroit so that thousands of children are able to learn in school and grow up to become contributing adults.

Instead of depicting older people as a "problem," we need to recognize that our future depends upon addressing inequities they face. In May, and beyond, let us honor the value of older adults in our lives as our mentors, caregivers, teachers and leaders. Let us confront our bias and invest more to prepare for our aging community. It is in our best interests to do so because even if you don't have an older adult in your life now, one day you are likely to become one.

SOURCE Adult Well-Being Services