May is Older Americans Month

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This May, we are proud to recognize and celebrate the countless contributions that older Americans have made and continue to make in our communities. Older Americans Month recognizes the contributions of seniors across the nation since President Gerald Ford proclaimed May Older Americans Month in 1976. We encourage you to thank our older citizens by volunteering your time to help them in some way or by supporting their caregivers.

While raising families and building careers, older Americans have always given back to their communities. In their lifetime, they have volunteered, served their neighborhoods, mentored children, coached, and/or served their country. Each one deserves recognition for their commitment.

Aging – By the numbers

Approximately 47 million seniors live in the United States. In 2018, about 16% of the U.S. population was 65 years old or older. According to annual midyear population estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau, the median age of America continues to rise – from 37.2 years in 2010 to 38.2 in 2018. The Census Bureau predicts that seniors will outnumber children by 2035.

7 Cultures that Celebrate Aging and Respect Their Elders

Aging isn’t just a biological process – it’s also very much a cultural one. Different cultures have different attitudes around aging and death, and these cultural perspectives can have a huge effect on our experience of getting older.

Many cultures celebrate the aging process and venerate their elders, and in May, we Americans have the opportunity to celebrate our seniors as others do around the world.

“Old Man” isn’t a bad word in Greek Culture ~ The Western cultural stigma around aging and death doesn’t exist in Greece. In Greek and Greek-American culture, old age is honored and celebrated, and respect for their elders is central to the family.

Native American Culture passes down their knowledge ~ There are over 500 Native American nations, and each has its own traditions and attitudes toward aging. In many tribal communities, elders are respected for their wisdom and life experiences. Within Native American families, it’s common for the elders to be expected to pass down their knowledge to younger members of the family, according to the University of Missouri, Kansas City.

Korean Culture, elders are highly respected ~ Much of the Korean regard for aging is rooted in the Confucian principle of filial piety, a value dictating that one must respect one’s parents. In Korea they have big celebrations on their 60th and 70th birthdays. The hwan-gap, or 60th birthday, is a joyous time when children celebrate their parents’ passage into old age. A similar large family celebration is held for the 70th birthday, known as kohCui (“old and rare”).

Chinese care for their parents in old age ~ Chinese families traditionally view filial piety and respect for one’s elders as the highest virtue, deriving from the Confucian tradition. “Placing your parents in retirement homes will see you labeled as uncaring or a bad son,” Beijing resident Zhou Rui told China.org “To abandon one’s family is considered deeply dishonorable.”

In India, elders are the head of the family ~ Many Indians live in joint family units, where elders are supported by the younger members of the family and play a key role in raising their grandchildren. Advice is sought from the elder members of the family. Disrespecting the elders of the family or sending them to an old-age home has a social stigma in India.

African American culture celebrates life ~ In African American culture, death is seen as part of the “natural rhythm of life.” African American funerals are usually celebratory and affirm the individual’s life while also having intermingled emotions of sorrow. When people die in New Orleans, they fill the streets with music – a celebration of the person’s life as much as a mourning of his or her death.

Ancient Rome, elders were a precious resource ~ Though the average life expectancy in ancient Rome was around 25, some individuals did live into their 70s, and they were generally respected for their wisdom. To quote Cicero, “For there is assuredly nothing dearer to a man than wisdom, and though age takes away all else, it undoubtedly brings us that.” The old had to be an example to the young, as it was thought the young learned by example. This was ingrained in Roman society.

How To Celebrate

Take part in Older Americans Month no matter what your age. Get involved and learn more by visiting oam.acl.gov. Use #OlderAmericansMonth to share on social media.

Sources: https://nationaldaycalendar.com/older-americans-month-may, www.seniorliving.org, www.census.gov, www.huffpost.com

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