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Ramsey Alwin, President and CEO, National Council on Aging

We all aspire to have fulfilling lives well into old age, staying socially connected and contributing to our communities. Yet aging in America comes with its own set of realities, bringing opportunities for growth, connection, community, and, at times, challenges. At the National Council on Aging, we believe that aging well with security, dignity, and purpose is powered by connection. 

Connection is at the heart of aging well. Social connections provide emotional support, reduce feelings of isolation, and contribute to overall health and well-being. Research shows that strong social ties can improve physical health, enhance mental health, and even extend the length of our lives. Maintaining connections as we age is crucial.

Recognizing Older Americans Month

Every May, we celebrate Older Americans Month, a time to honor and recognize older Americans' contributions, highlight aging trends, and reaffirm commitments to serving the older adults in our communities. The theme this year is “Powered by Connection,” which recognizes the profound impact that meaningful relationships and social connections have on our health and well-being—and the vital role connectedness plays in supporting independence and aging in place. 

At NCOA, we also want to celebrate the incredible role of the aging network service providers, including AmeriCorps Seniors grantees and volunteers, in creating and powering connections. 

Making Connections Possible

We have a comprehensive network of organizations at the national, state, tribal, and community levels that are critical to the planning and implementation of successful programs that promote healthy aging and economic security. Many of these are formally supported by federal agencies such as AmeriCorps and the Administration for Community Living. 

We advocate to strengthen and expand the programs we rely upon to age well—Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, the Older Americans Act, and AmeriCorps Seniors. We also applaud the work of the aging network professionals administering the programs designed to foster connection and support aging well regardless of socioeconomic status, race or ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, or ZIP code. 

Our key priorities are:

Supporting service and connection: NCOA fully supports investing in redeploying the vast human capital of older adults to help address many of our societal challenges while providing a stipend. NCOA recommends full funding and leveraging of programs such as the AmeriCorps Seniors programs – Senior Companion Program, Foster Grandparent Program, and RSVP – as well as expanding successful demonstrations. These programs provide important opportunities for individuals 55+ to contribute wisdom, experience, and expertise to their communities, and they build bridges between the generations. We need to expand access to these time-tested and proven strategies. 

Investing in community living and connection: As we approach the 60th anniversary of the Older Americans Act, NCOA continues to prioritize the needs of our nation’s aging population and strengthen the mechanisms that support their well-being so that aging remains a period of dignity, vitality, and opportunity for all of us. This year, when the law is up for reauthorization, NCOA aims to provide a roadmap for advancing the mission of improving the lives of older adults by embracing the lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic, with a particular focus on historically marginalized demographic groups such as women, people of color, low-income individuals, LGBTQIA+ older adults, and those who live in rural areas. 

We also must:

  • Strengthen and expand parity among the equally important senior nutrition programs, that provide connection, such as the congregate meal and home delivery programs.
  • Invest in elevating senior centers as the hubs of well-being and social connection that they are. 
  • Strengthen and expand access to evidence-based health promotion programs that have a real impact on physical health and social connection. 
  • Expand access to the Senior Community Service Employment Program, which offers training and job opportunities to help older adults stay active in the workforce and achieve financial stability. The job training and placement at community service assignments provide an opportunity to refresh skills and deepen community connection. 

The Role of Technology

In today's digital age, technology plays a significant role in maintaining connections. From video calls with family to online communities and support groups, technology offers new ways for older adults to stay connected. One silver lining of the pandemic has been the wider adoption of technology by older adults to stay connected with their loved ones. Many quickly learned how to get on video call applications, ensuring they were not isolated. 

But we saw inequities at play. Many older adults don’t have access to this technology. There is a high need for digital support and literacy among older adults, especially low-income and rural individuals, who often lack the hardware, software, broadband, and digital skills to benefit from this shift. This is where AmeriCorps Seniors can play an important role—teaching older adults to successfully and safely navigate the virtual world. We can provide resources and training to help older adults embrace these technologies, ensuring all remain connected in a rapidly changing world.

Reframing Aging: A New Perspective

One reality that can prevent us from deepening our connections is the damaging impact of all the “isms.” As we focus on older Americans this month, ageism comes to mind in particular. It is one of the last “isms” we have yet to address as a society. 

The World Health Organization asked Becca Levy, a professor at the School of Public Health and the psychology department at Yale University, to lead an analysis of the effects of ageism. She found it led to worse health because older adults are denied care, fewer work opportunities because they are not considered or hired, a negative self-perception, and overall devalued lives. She even estimated that internalized ageism, or negative beliefs about growing older, shaves 7.5 years off a person’s life expectancy. This is unacceptable and counter to what we know about what is possible thanks to so many powerful community programs. 

AmeriCorps Seniors demonstrates how straightforward it is to break down negative stereotypes and myths about older adults. Our older adult volunteers help a struggling child learn to read. They deliver groceries to a homebound neighbor. They support a family impacted by natural disasters. These volunteers show the world that growing older does not mean we no longer have value.

As a national partner and supporter of the Reframing Aging movement, we know it is about changing the way we think and talk about aging. Instead of seeing aging as a period of decline, we focus on the strengths, contributions, and resilience of older adults. This new perspective helps society value older adults for their wisdom, experience, and diverse viewpoints, clearing the path for us to connect with each other without the limitation of preconceived notions. 

Looking Ahead

This year, more than 11,000 Americans are turning 65 every single day – a population higher than ever before. It is paramount that we work collectively across sectors to build our capacity and keep us all connected as we age. 

We know aging well in America is about more than physical health—it's about emotional well-being, financial security, and social engagement. By embracing the principles of Reframing Aging and focusing on investing in connection, we can create a society where we are all valued, supported, and empowered to live our best lives as we age. At NCOA, we are committed to making this vision a reality, one connection at a time. Through programs like those supported by AmeriCorps Seniors and the Older Americans Act, we are building a stronger, more connected community for all older adults.

This Older Americans Month and beyond, let’s celebrate the incredible contributions of older adults and, as a network of committed aging network professionals, continue to work toward a future where aging well is accessible to everyone.

Ramsey Alwin headshot

Ramsey Alwin is the President and CEO of NCOA. She is a thought leader and policy advocate who is leading a nationwide movement to ensure equitable aging for every American.