Opinion: A Half Century of Progress for Older Adults
By Deb Taylor | The AfricaPaper
We’ve come a long way on our journey to enhance support and care for the older adults in our communities. When President Lyndon Johnson signed the Older Americans Act (OAA) in 1965, the legislation represented an historic step towards improving the lives of seniors in the areas of income, housing, health, employment, retirement and community services.
After Johnson signed that historic document, he gave his pen to Minnesotan Elva Walker Spillane, a national pioneer in aging services and advocacy. Ms. Spillane, who died in 2001 at age 87, founded many health and aging services organizations and served as Board Chair for the National Council On The Aging from 1986 until 1992.
People in Need
It seems Minnesotans are often on the frontline of efforts to make life better for people in need. The Older Americans Act provided millions of adults with much needed services. Today, 11 million people, about one in five older adults, receive services from a program enabled by the Older Americans Act. It provides much support in the way of nutrition, care-giving, transportation, legal services, socialization, healthcare and elder abuse prevention.
The largest program under the OAA addresses senior nutrition. Older adults are provided meals at senior campuses, senior centers and places of worship. Home delivered programs bring meals right to their doors. 44 percent of these home meal recipients live in poverty, half are at high nutritional risk, and for most of them, the meals account for half or more of their daily food consumption.
Advocacy for Older Adult
The OAA is significantly responsible for helping ensure the seniors live longer and can remain more independent, yet struggles persist. Federal funding is always a challenge given the ever-growing list of national priorities. So even after half a century, the advocacy for older adult services must continue to be persistently voiced. Seniors matter and the issue will only grow more relevant as members of the massive baby boom generation age.
Growing Pool of Seniors
Senior Community Services continues to see a growing pool of seniors and caregivers in need. They require support with home maintenance chores, help finding quality and affordable health insurance, expertise negotiating down medical debt. Seniors also benefit from our senior centers which enhance socialization and reduce loneliness and isolation.
Overall, Minnesotans have benefited from a remarkable safety net that has grown significantly since 1965. Today, Senior Community Services partners with 300 other experienced and effective nonprofit organizations to annually help more than 25,000 seniors and caregivers live independently, with dignity and hope. And when other organizations have struggled and closed, Senior Community Services has stepped up to sustain the compassionate outreach they provided. We do this work with the donation of time, talents, and treasure from our friends in the community.
Minnesota is blessed with other wonderful senior resources. Eldercare Partners, which Senior Community Services helped create, supports Minnesota caregivers who provide 92 percent of senior long-term care.
The Senior LinkAge Line is another terrific gateway operated by the Minnesota Board on Aging. It connects families across Greater Minnesota with organizations in their particular areas.
We’ve come a long way since the 1965 signing of the Older American’s Act, to better meet senior and caregiver needs. Let’s keep it up as we Reimagine Aging.
The AfricaPaper: Columnist Deb Taylor is CEO of Senior Community Services (www.seniorcommunity.org) and its Reimagine Aging Institute, a nonprofit that advocates for older adults and helps seniors and caregivers maintain their independence through free or low-cost services.