September is National Senior Health Month and Assisted Living Month in New York. The acknowledgement of the needs of older individuals is meaningful. People are living longer. The change in the numbers, diversity and attitudes of this older age group has major implications for how we live and how we provide and support services for older adults.
There is a long way to go.
Older people need an environment that they can help shape so they may thrive and live life to the fullest for as long as possible. The challenge for us is to be inclusive of everyone, help people stay healthy and active and encourage their participation in community and family events. We need to think of older people as a resource instead of dependent. When health begins to fail, people can continue to enjoy life as fully as possible if we find ways to help them do so.
All too often, older people receive little attention and as a result, they and their caregivers often feel excluded, ignored and underappreciated.
We need to tackle ageism and ask older people what independence means for them and what they need to maintain it. Part of this is the ability to exercise choice and maintain some control. We know that they need comfortable and safe residential options, friendships and opportunities for learning and leisure, the ability to get out and keep active and lead fulfilling lives.
A number of communities are already working to develop a broad approach to older people. The Center for Aging in Place in Westchester provides support to a number of Aging in Place communities throughout the County. The issues that affect younger people (affordability, accessibility, quality of life) are the same for the older generation.
Frail older people are citizens too and many still want an active fulfilling life. Independence and well being can be more difficult to maintain when someone has one or more chronic illnesses. But, even frail individuals have a wide range of interests and concerns. They need support to manage their health conditions so that they can maintain the aspects of their lives that they most value. This support needs to be sensitive to the need to retain control over their life.