Celebrating National Senior Citizen Day in 2021 has a new poignancy for all Americans. With the COVID pandemic of 2020, it’s immense toll on families has driven home the point from President Reagan’s 1988 pronouncement. He stated that “…our communities are good places in which to mature and grow older – places in which older people can participate to the fullest and find encouragement, acceptance, assistance, and services they need to continue to lead lives of independence and dignity.”
As we celebrate older Americans, we need to acknowledge the social isolation, fear, loss of independence, food insecurity and depression that became a way of life. Now, we have the opportunity to step forward and make important contributions to change the world again. This is our time to donate to food banks, deliver meals (prepared professionally or home-cooked to a neighbor), make a check-in call or make more than one call, offer a ride to a store, doctor’s appointment, church or community center, get a home safety assessment for a loved one to make sure the lights work, the shrubs aren’t taking over the walkway, recycling paper hasn’t built up to clutter, or even offer to walk a pet. The breadth of ideas is unlimited but we must honor our seniors and re-create those spaces in which lives of independence and dignity are, again, possible.
Some 78 million people 65 years and older will live in America by 2035, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, surpassing the number of the country’s population under the age of 18 (76.7 million) for the first time in U.S. history. It was 1988, when, through Proclamation 5847, Reagan deemed today as the day America would celebrate seniors. But his words may hold even more validity 33 years later as older people are living longer, healthier and more productive lives than ever before:
“Throughout our history, older people have achieved much for our families, our communities, and our country…With improved health care and more years of productivity, older citizens are reinforcing their historical roles as leaders and as links with our patrimony and sense of purpose as individuals and as a Nation. Many older people are embarking on second careers, giving younger Americans a fine example of responsibility, resourcefulness, competence, and determination. And millions of senior citizens are serving as volunteers in various programs and projects that benefit every sector of society. Wherever the need exists, older people are making their presence felt—for their own good and that of others…” Ronald Regan was 69 when he took office…and Joe Biden our current president will be 79 years old this year.