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Creating communities of strength by celebrating older adults

May is Older Americans Month. Assistant Director of the Nevada Geriatric Education Center and Extension Healthy Aging Expert Natalie Mazzullo gets into the history of the observance and ways to celebrate older adults

May is Older Americans Month, which serves to honor and celebrate older adults. The observance was established in 1963, by President John F. Kennedy and members of the National Council of Senior Citizens, at a time when there were only 17 million Americans age 65 and older. Today, the number of older adults living in America has more than tripled. And in Nevada, we have almost half a million older adults, making our state older and more diverse each year.

According to the Administration for Community Living, which leads our nation’s observance of Older Americans Month, this year’s theme is "Communities of Strength." The month’s celebrations will have a special emphasis on the power of connection, focusing on building a strong community by engagement and honoring resilient older adults for their successes, joys and triumphs. Find the “super seniors” in your community and use them as role models to help support and inspire others.

An example of a super senior is Ida Keeling, my husband’s great aunt. She took up running in her late 60s after losing her husband to a heart attack. In 2011, at 95, she set the world record in her age group for running 60 meters in 29.86 seconds. She continued setting records in 2012 and 2014, and in 2016, she became the first woman in history to complete a 100-meter run at the age of 100. Ida says she maintains a healthy diet and exercise routine to keep herself fit and strong, and this year she will celebrate her 106th birthday. I am so proud to call her family.

Ida, and others like her, believe connecting with others is one of the most important ways to stay engaged and young at heart. Connectivity plays a vital role in our health and well-being, and in that of our communities. Finding joy in small things, such as running or sharing stories and engaging in meaningful activities, will help promote a feeling of community to stay connected and strong.

Here are some ways to stay engaged with members of your community this Older Americans Month.

  • Start a conversation with a loved one, grandchild, neighbor, church friend or co-worker. Here are some prompts to get you started:
    • For all ages: What do you see as your biggest accomplishment? What obstacles did you overcome to achieve it? Who or what have you missed most during the pandemic? What have you done in place of seeing them or doing that activity? Did you take on a project, develop a new hobby, or learn a new skill during the past year? What are your goals for this coming year?
    • For older adults: What would you tell your 20-year-old self? What do you think your 20-year-old self would tell you now? What lessons have you learned from tough times in your life? How have those experiences made you stronger?
  • Start or participate in an indoor activity. Make sure you follow all COVID mandates for social distancing and wearing masks. Here are some ideas to get you started:
    • Organize a game night. A contactless option could be charades. Or, for a fun game of chance that will get your body moving, try Bingocize®. A Bingocize event may be scheduled in your area. Contact healthyaginginfo@unr.edu for more information.
    • Hold a neighborhood movie screening.Consider a comedy or other light-hearted movie. Laughter is good medicine and can improve your overall health[1]. Provide a little popcorn that is high in fiber and antioxidants as a snack. Try this popcorn that has a little kick.
    • Bring together some musicians.Music can help people to connect, heal and much more. Identify older adults in your neighborhood with musical talents, or just play music on your phone or through a computer app and let everyone make requests. Keep the music going and encourage clapping, free movement and even chair dancing for those with reduced mobility.
  • Start or participate in an outdoor activity. Here are some ideas to get you started:
    • Decorate a community garden or walking path.Paint rocks with eye-catching designs and inspiring messages. Ask community members to paint their rocks individually, providing simple supplies, if possible. Then, collect them to display in your community. If you have a social media account, you can find several rock-painting groups throughout Nevada.
    • Visit a community garden of flowers or vegetables.University of Nevada, Reno Extension’s Botanic Gardens (in southern Nevada) is a 3-acre outdoor educational garden featuring an orchard, vegetables, compost, mulch, native wash, children's garden, rose garden, cactus garden, milkweeds/monarchs, herbs and a team development course. The gardens are open to the public for self-guided and guided tours. Call 702-257-5555 for tour information or email healthyaginginfo@unr.edu to see if you are eligible to receive a Grow-Your-Own herb kit.
    • Design a mosaic art project or mural.Each participant can take a turn adding their own touch. Don’t have a space that can be permanently altered? Use small canvases instead. Search “mini canvas collage” in a search engine (e.g. Google) to spark your creativity.

Contact Natalie Mazzullo at nmazzullo@unr.edu for more healthy aging strategies and programs, including nutrition, brain health, falls prevention, chronic disease self-management and others.

[1] VA Office of Patient Centered Care and Cultural Transformation

Natalie Mazzullo photo
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