Older Americans Month 2024: Powered by Connections

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May is Older Americans Month. Every year, the Administration for Community Living designates a theme that underlies celebrations of older Americans’ contributions to society and reaffirms the importance of serving their needs.

The theme in 2024 is Powered by Connections. The theme calls attention to the important role that social connections and meaningful relationships play in the health and well-being of older adults.

The Importance of Connections

Social connections tend to be abundant before retirement. Work, family, and friends guard against loneliness. When we need a favor, friends and family are there to help. 

As people grow older, those connections tend to erode. Children move away. Coworkers retire. Friends who have grown older may lack the mobility that enables them to visit. As the social capital that people accumulate during their lifetimes declines, older adults lose the connections that provide emotional support, intellectual stimulation, and assistance when problems arise. 

Social connections are enabled by community membership. Having neighbors with whom activities can be shared contributes to an active lifestyle and protects against loneliness. Contact with community members who care about each other enhances mental and physical health.

Retirement communities provide older adults with daily opportunities for social connections. Retirement communities make it easy to meet neighbors who share common interests. Older adults tend to be more active — and stay mobile for a longer time — when they form connections to other members of their community.

Social connections may also protect against cognitive decline. Although much remains to be learned about the causes of dementia, studies suggest that greater social engagement correlates with a reduced risk of cognitive loss.

At the same time, evidence suggests that social connections may only be beneficial when they are positive and meaningful. Relationships that lead to conflict or wasted time might make older adults want to spend less time with others.

Helping Older Adults Form and Maintain Connections

While connections are important throughout the year, Older Americans Month is a good time to ask ourselves whether we can do more to maintain connections with the older adults in our lives. Inviting older friends or family members to lunch, going shopping together, or asking them for advice will remind them that they are appreciated.

A casual conversation with an older friend may lead to insights about other ways to improve her social connections. She may be unaware of social activities sponsored by community organizations that align with her interests. If she expresses regret that she no longer feels useful, help her explore volunteer opportunities that will increase her social interaction and sense of self-worth.

Children, grandchildren, and friends can make sure that the older adults in their lives have a wireless internet connection and are using a messaging app that allows video calls. Regular calls to the older adult should be accompanied by an assurance that the friend or relative should feel free to call at any time. Younger people should not assume that their older friends and relatives are technophobic. Technology can overcome distance when older adults are encouraged to use it.

Older adults can also use technology to connect with peers. Sites that facilitate engagement with other seniors include Friendly Voices and SAGEConnect (for LGBTQ elders).

Older Americans Month is a good time for younger people to familiarize themselves with additional resources that will help them promote social connections of older friends and relatives. Websites to explore include:

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