For most of human history, “aging” wasn’t a hot topic. In the Iron and Bronze Ages, people didn’t live past their twenties. By 1900, the average lifespan was still under 50 years in the United States. We worked, raised a family, and died.
Over the past century, a combination of sanitation, improved living conditions and medical advances skyrocketed life expectancy. The average baby born today will live to be 79, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Someone who is 65 now can expect to live past 83. Centenarians are the fastest-growing segment of the older population, projected to be six million strong by 2050.
Clearly, services to support older Americans are vital.
On July 14, 1965, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Older Americans Act (OAA) into law. Under the umbrella of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the OAA promotes the well being of older adults by providing community-based services and opportunities to help people live healthy, independent lives. Prior to the OAA, there was no unified effort to deliver community social services for seniors.
The Older Americans Act also established the Administration on Aging (AoA) to administer newly created state grant programs, and to serve as the federal focal point on matters concerning older adults.
How the OAA Affects You
Understanding how the OAA functions can be a boon to your well being. Through the Older Americans Act, the AoA supports numerous programs that can enhance elder dignity, health and welfare. These include:
- Health, Prevention and Wellness Programs. This broad platform comprises a wealth of resources, such as:
- Diabetes self-management. About 27 percent of Medicare recipients are diabetic; this figure is higher among minority populations.
- Fall prevention. Falls are the leading cause of both fatal and nonfatal injuries for those 65+. An emergency room treats a senior for a fall-related injury every 14 seconds.
- Nutrition education and meal delivery. You may be familiar with the Meals on Wheels program, which delivers nutritious meals to homebound or isolated individuals 60 and older, as well as to those with disabilities. This Did You Know? document is highly informative.
- Oral health: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 25 percent of those 65+ have no remaining teeth. Nearly one-third of older adults have untreated tooth decay. Severe gum disease is associated with a host of chronic diseases, including diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.
- Long-Term Care. Few people want to think about being stricken with a severe or chronic illness. Yet planning for long-term care, whether at home or in a community-based setting, can be prudent. This aspect of the OAA covers eleven programs, including:
- Alzheimer’s Disease (memory care)
- Caregiver support
- Community Innovations for Aging in Place. Aging in place — remaining in your own home as you grow older — is what the vast majority of people prefer. One excellent resource is the Village to Village Network, a consortium of virtual, grassroots membership organizations throughout the U.S. that support seniors living at home with services such as transportation, home repairs, wellness programs, and social activities. Villages typically offer vetted and discounted service providers based on members’ needs.
- Elder Rights Protection. Each year, an estimated five million older adults are abused, neglected, and exploited — and this number could be much higher, since elder abuse tends to be underreported. In addition, elders lose an estimated $2.6 billion or more annually due to financial exploitation. The Elder Rights Protection program helps prevent elder abuse, and provides elder justice. The National Legal Resource Center provides tools and resources to help aging and legal professionals protect elder independence, health, and financial security.
Renewing the Nation’s Commitment To Older Adults
As the Baby Boom generation grays the globe, someone turns 60 every ten seconds. Half a century after the OAA’s enactment, funding has failed to keep pace with inflation — and with demand from a burgeoning older population.
In 2016, the Older Americans Act Reauthorization Act became law. The new bill’s priorities emphasize:
- Modernizing multipurpose senior centers
- Addressing economic needs
- Stronger elder justice and legal services
- Chronic disease self-management, and falls prevention.
By knowing what services are available to support you as you age, you can look forward to potentially healthier, safer, more connected, and happier later years, wherever and however you choose to live.