Aging Matters: Alachua County seniors mark Older Americans Month

May is Older Americans Month.
May is Older Americans Month.
Courtesy of Powered by Connection

There’s always something clamoring for our attention, but May is unique, not just for Mother’s Day but for the entire month when Older Americans Month takes center stage.  

President Joe Biden issued an official proclamation to kick off the month, calling “upon all Americans to celebrate older adults’ contributions, support their independence, and recognize their unparalleled value to our nation.” 

The Administration for Community Living (ACL), established by President Barack Obama in 2012, is at the helm of Older Americans Month. The ACL declared this year’s theme as “Powered by Connection.” 

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“It highlights the importance of social connections for the well-being and health of older adults,” said Katina Mustipher, CEO of Gainesville-based Elder Options. “Community engagement and relationships play a huge role in our mental, physical, and emotional well-being.”  

She said her organization will promote Older Americans Month online, showcasing community classes where older adults can connect and learn new ways to stay independent. 

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Free Tai Chi for Arthritis workshops that are offered in person. Online caregiver support groups are also an option.  

President John F. Kennedy created Older Americans Month in May 1963 as the first official step in recognizing the achievements of seniors. Kennedy met with what was then the National Council of Senior Citizens, and the idea of May as a special month for seniors took hold. 

At that time, only 17 million people in the United States had reached their 65th birthday. Today, the number has nearly quadrupled to 64 million. The U.S. Census Bureau says almost one out of five of Florida’s 22.4 million residents are over 65.  

In Alachua County, with almost 285,000 residents, more than 15% of the population is in that demographic. 

Many area seniors spend time at The Senior Recreation Center, which is usually abuzz with activity. On a recent Tuesday, people were hanging out playing cards and Mah Jongg, taking a dance or computer class, or even attending self-improvement talks, such as learning about retirement options. 

Center director Jeffrey Lee says seniors must stay connected and engaged.  

“A senior’s ability to maintain their safety net and social network tends to make them more active and social,” he said. “Otherwise, they could become withdrawn and isolated, affecting their ability to walk because they have no reason to walk and get out and about. Everybody deserves friends and socialization. It helps keep people young.” 

On a more personal note, Page Ellis, home care manager at The Village at Gainesville, said her aunt in Mississippi just turned 101 and “being connected to others is one of the main things that has helped her longevity. 

“We owe our seniors a lot for their sacrifices and contributions to society,” Ellis said. “I think what’s so special in my role is to be able to give back to them and thank them for everything they have done for us.” 

While Older Americans Month has a positive emphasis, May 15 brings an awareness day that is focused on a negative topic: National Senior Fraud Awareness Day on May 15.  

Mainstreet recently reported on the growing number of seniors impacted by fraud and scams. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reported 853,935 cases of imposter scams in 2023, with losses totaling $2.7 billion. 

However, as more seniors get “powered by connection,” Mustipher said there are plenty of reasons to be positive about the outlook for them: “We encourage our community to build new relationships, meet your neighbors, and discover that we are more alike than you think!” 

Editor’s note: This story was independently reported by Ronnie Lovler and underwritten by Elder Options. It was also published with the support of a journalism fellowship from the Gerontological Society of America, the Journalists Network on Generations, and the Silver Century Foundation.    

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