Older Americans Month 2023: Aging Unbound
Chris Herman, MSW, LICSW,
Senior Practice Associate–Aging
Join NASW in celebrating Older Americans Month (OAM) in May. Led by the Administration for Community Living (ACL) and currently in its 60th year, Older Americans Month acknowledges the contributions and achievements of older adults, highlights important trends, and strengthens our commitment to honoring older people in our communities. The 2023 theme, Aging Unbound, explores the diversity of aging experiences. It also invites us to challenge the dominant narrative on aging by seeking fulfillment as we age.
As social workers, we can reflect internally on, and explore with clients, the invitations of OAM 2023:
- Embrace opportunities for change; try new approaches and activities that bring growth, energy, and joy, without accepting age as an inherently limiting factor.
- Explore the rewards of growing older, such as insight and confidence; seek ongoing opportunities to increase experience and knowledge.
- Become or remain engaged in our communities through activities such as volunteering, mentoring, participating in local groups or organizations, or paid employment. We all benefit when each of us is connected and involved.
- Form and strengthen interpersonal relationships with family (however one defines that), friends, and other members of our communities.
The OAM 2023 theme is congruent with the quality of resilience. As social workers, we can play integral roles in helping our older adult clients enhance their resilience, as described in the NASW Press book Social Work with Older Adults: A Resilience-Enhancing Guide (R. Greene, Dubus, Wright, Cole, Cohen, & N. Greene, 2021), and we can incorporate these techniques in our own lives as we age. As the resilience-enhancing stress model makes clear, however, resilience work does not simply involve changing one’s mindset. Attention to systemic oppression and work to reduce systemic barriers is integral to effective social work practice with older adults.
Thus, in the spirit of both OAM 2023 and social work’s person-in-environment framework, trying new approaches and activities can include fostering self-advocacy or engaging in political or social action. Increasing experience and knowledge can include increasing our understanding of and work to dismantle ableism and ageism, classism, ethnocentrism and racism, oppression against LGBTQIA2S+ people, and other forms of systemic oppression. Community engagement can include sharing experiences in living with a chronic mental health condition or substance use disorder—or learning from older adults who have had such lived experiences.
Recognizing the intersection of Older Americans Month and Mental Health Awareness Month (federal government microsite; NASW Tips and Tools for Social Workers post), NASW has also encouraged social workers to participate in the Older Adult Mental Health Awareness Day Symposium, which took place on May 11 and will soon be available on demand. This free, virtual, all-day symposium was sponsored by the National Council on Aging, the Administration for Community Living, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the Health Resources and Services Administration, and the E4 Center of Excellence for Behavioral Health Disparities in Aging at Rush University. NASW served on the steering committee for the event, which included five social work presenters and keynote presenter Montel Williams. (Continuing education credits are not available for on-demand participation in the symposium.)
NASW also recognizes the intersection of OAM with Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander Month. Another noteworthy intersection is the May 25 anniversary of the police murder of George Floyd. Organizations working to advocate for and support AANHPI older adults include the National Asian Pacific Center on Aging and the Southeast Asian Resource Action Center; those working to advocate for and support Black older adults include the National Caucus and Center on Black Aging. Moreover, racial equity is a primary priority for Justice in Aging. All four organizations participate in the Leadership Council of Aging Organizations (LCAO), of which NASW is a long-standing member. In 2020 and 2021, respectively, LCAO developed a statement on racial injustice and statement condemning hate crimes against Asian American and Pacific Islander older adults. NASW played an instrumental role in developing these statements, the first of their kind for LCAO. These statements remain as relevant in 2023 as they were in preceding years.
Additional events and resources related to OAM follow.