New Attitudes About Aging Gain Global Attention

Related topics: Senior Life

Each May, Americans celebrate Older Americans Month. As May rolled around this year, the spotlight was already focused on the subject of aging when weeks before, the World Health Organization (WHO) chose aging as the theme of their annual World Health Day. Read on to learn more about these recognition events that call attention to the importance of supporting senior well-being—both in the U.S., and around the world!

Since 1963, communities across the nation have come together in commemoration of Older Americans Month—a proud tradition that shows our nation's commitment to celebrating the contributions and achievements of older Americans.

The theme for Older Americans Month 2012—Never Too Old to Play!—shines a spotlight on the important role older adults play in sharing their experience, wisdom and understanding, and passing on that knowledge to younger generations in a variety of significant ways. This year's celebrations recognize the value that older adults continue to bring to our communities through spirited participation in social and faith groups, service organizations, and other activities.

As large numbers of baby boomers reach retirement age, many communities have increased their efforts to provide meaningful opportunities for older adults—many of whom remain physically and socially active through their 80s and beyond. Current trends show that people over age 60 account for an ever-growing percentage of participants in community service positions, faith-based organizations, online social networking as well as arts and recreational groups.

Lifelong participation in social, creative, and physical activities has proven health benefits, including retaining mobility, muscle mass, and cognitive abilities. But older adults are not the only ones who benefit from their engagement in community life. Studies show their interactions with family, friends, and neighbors across generations enrich the lives of everyone involved. Young people who have significant relationships with a grandparent or elder report that these relationships helped shape their values, goals, and life choices and gave them a sense of identity and roots.

Visit the Older Americans Month website to find the best way to play! Contact your local Area Agency on Aging by visiting or calling 1-800-677-1116 to find ongoing opportunities to celebrate and support older Americans.

World Health Day 2012: A Focus on Aging

Click on the poster to view an affirming online video from the World Health Organization.  

Since 1950, the World Health Organization (WHO) has celebrated its birthday on April 7 with World Health Day. Each year's theme is different, calling attention to a priority area of concern for WHO, the division of the United Nations that is concerned with international public health.

This year, for the first time, the emphasis was on seniors. With the theme "Ageing and Health: Good Health Adds Life to Years," WHO pointed out that between now and the year 2050, the number of people aged 80 and over will almost quadruple to 395 million, outnumbering children under the age of 14. WHO experts emphasize the changing face of global aging. Said Dr. Margaret Chan, Director General at WHO, "When a 100-year-old man finishes a marathon, as happened last year, we have to rethink conventional definitions of what it means to be 'old.' Past stereotypes developed in past centuries no longer hold."

Noncommunicable diseases: a threat to senior well-being

Though World Health Day has often in past years focused on the role of communicable diseases such as polio and malaria that are caused by bacteria, viruses and parasites, this year's event had a particular focus on noncommunicable diseases, which WHO called the main health risk for older people.

These diseases include heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes and chronic lung disease, which are becoming more prevalent around the world. WHO highlights the need for all countries to take cost-effective steps to prevent noncommunicable diseases among seniors. The risk of developing these conditions can be significantly reduced by adopting healthy behaviors, such as being physically active, eating a healthy diet, and avoiding the harmful use of alcohol and tobacco. The organization also encourages increased attention to treating these chronic conditions.

A second threat: marginalization and negative stereotypes

Disease is not the only threat that WHO called out on World Health Day 2012. The organization sounded the alarm about the damage caused by stigmatizing attitudes and common stereotypes that often keep seniors from participating fully in society. WHO calls for the creation of physical and social environments that foster the health and participation of older people, and urges all countries to "reinvent aging" by changing social attitudes to build a society in which older people are respected and valued.

World Health Day resources are posted on the World Health Organization website, where you can learn more about global aging, dispel myths and read stories from active seniors around the world.