OAM—The Power of Connections & Engagement

Every May, the Administration for Community Living leads our nation’s observance of Older Americans Month (OAM). The theme for 2021 is “Communities of Strength.”

Older adults have built resilience and durability over their lives through successes, failures, joys, and difficulties. Their stories and contributions help to support and inspire others. This year’s OAM celebrates the strength of older adults and the Aging Network, with special emphasis on the power of connection and engagement in building strong communities.  [Related article]

There are many things we all can do to nurture ourselves, reinforce our strength, and continue to thrive. Connecting with others is one of the most important—it plays a vital role in our health and well-being and in that of our communities. From finding joy in small things and sharing our stories to looking at the big picture and giving to others, join us in promoting the ways we are connected and strong.*

The OAM website, at https://acl.gov/oam/2021/older-americans-month-2021, offers materials, resources, and activity ideas to help observe OAM. Here are some suggested activities: https://acl.gov/oam/2021/oam-2021-activity-ideas

Become an intergenerational pen (or keyboard) pal. Encouraging communication can reduce isolation and increase resilience in people of all ages—young people are often struggling to adapt to their own life changes just as are their elders are. Various community groups, such as churches and schools, and recreational organizations can help different generations reach out and connect. OAM offers some writing prompts to get conversations started. Now that some of our local nursing homes and assisted living facilities offer “contact visits,” why not write a short story or essay of issues you are facing, then share with an older adult during a visit, asking them to share your story or help you find solutions to difficult situations.

Distanced outdoor event. Seeing other people in person—with or without masks on and within the allowed separation distance—can may offer a richer sense of connection and community than virtual gatherings. However, many older people have difficulty seeing and hearing, so you might want to suggest both of you have a cell phone—set on speaker—so you can hear one another. If you want to share things like photographs, have them printed large enough so the elder can see them. Make sharing information, spoken or viewed, easy for both of you.

Group project. If CDC restrictions have been lifted to the extent that working together is possible, that really helps. If not, participants can work at home or on their own, then have their work combined into a community project such as a public garden, mosaic or mural, or community quilt.

Encouraging conversation between elders and their younger counterparts—who need not be related!—helps establish a connection where shared experiences can help resolve problems. Conversations are best in-person, of course, but sometimes, geographical distance or health events, like Covid, require alternative means of conversation. An old-fashioned phone call always helps. Digital resources like Skype, “face-time,” and group or private “Zoom” meetings allow people stay in touch when they are far physically apart. The goal is to share information, however and as best you can, to foster creativity in dealing with life-changing situations.

* Resource. Older Americans Month Communities of Strength.