What defines an “older American?”
May marks “Older Americans Month.” While traditionally it has been a time for us to honor older generations and raise awareness around aging, over the years it has become clear that what it means to be “older” has changed dramatically. As the boomer generation moves into the ranks of those over 65, we are challenged not only to rethink our conceptions about what we mean by the term “older adults,” but also the kind of programming and services they seek and need.
Part of the challenge we face as a field comes from the limitations of categorizing those we serve simply based on years lived. There is tremendous diversity in the needs, wants and interests of individuals, regardless of their biological age. What does an 79-year old who still hikes, skis and runs his own business want and need versus his same-aged counterpart who has limited mobility due to chronic health issues and needs assistance with daily living activities, but loves to sing and visit with his grandkids? How do we plan in ways that serve both?
In addition, we need to re-imagine our vision of what older adults want to do. No longer are we developing programs and services for folks who are happy to simply reminisce or listen to travelogue lectures. A recent article in Geriatric Nursing showed that in fact older adults are most interested in activities that are actually quite – active! The study, which looked at data from over 5,000 community-dwelling, cognitive intact adults between the ages of 65 and 84, found that 4 out of the 5 most popular activities were very active, including walking/jogging, outdoor maintenance and playing sports.
This finding is spot on with our experience here at Total Brain Health — that active aging adults lead busy, fulfilling lives. When seeking brain fitness programs, they are not satisfied with cognitive fitness classes that do not actually reflect the science, challenge their abilities, feel stale or dumbed down. And why should they accept anything less? In response to their expectations (and yours) we strive to develop cognitive wellness opportunities that provide learning along the cutting edge spectrum of the brain science through programs that are appropriately engaging, varied, social and fun. For example, our TBH ACTIVITIES Toolkit program includes activities such as Ping-Pong, dance parties, and juggling games, as well as meditation, stress reduction exercises and innovative ways to build the skills we need to think clearly everyday. All of these activities tie to what the literature demonstrates supports our ability to stay sharp and to potentially lower our dementia risk.
So as we celebrate Older American’s Month, let’s re-envision aging beyond gray hair and rocking chairs. Set up the Ping-Pong tables and have a round robin tournament or hold a poetry slam. After all, age is just a number!