I hope this month's newsletter finds you safe and well. Here in New York, we have "sheltered in place" since mid-March. It has been a time for reflection and to build a new normal in our lives. The month of May marks the time when we celebrate and honor nurses and older Americans. How poignant a time for these two groups to be honored! The past few months have been unprecedented in all our lives, but particularly for nurses and older Americans.
First, let us celebrate nurses! The World Health Organization declared 2020 as the International Year of the Nurse and Midwife in celebration of the 200th birthday of Florence Nightingale on May 12th. As part of this celebration, the American Nurses Association expanded National Nurses Week, traditionally celebrated from May 6th to May 12th each year, to a month-long celebration to expand opportunities to elevate and celebrate nursing. We had no idea in January what circumstances would shape our world this year, but the pandemic has propelled nurses into the forefront of a battle that has taken more American lives than the Vietnam War. Nurses have been on the frontlines of this pandemic, bringing their hearts and minds to work every day and providing comfort and compassion to patients and families while risking their own well-being. Countless nurses have been infected with COVID-19, and several have died, but nurses are relentless in the care they provide. Throughout this pandemic, nurses have been there to enhance recovery, to be the final human link for the dying, and to support families through their grief. Nurses have been the #1 most trusted profession in the Gallup polls for years. They are heroes, and we thank all the nurses and honor them - not just this week or month, but every day!
When Older Americans Month was established in May 1963, only 17 million living Americans had reached their 65th birthday. Today we have over 50 million people who are 65 or older, and that number grows every day. The number "65" has taken on a mythical meaning. It is the age when one is eligible for Medicare, it is the age people often think of as "retirement age," and it is the age that, for some reason, one is considered an "older American." Yet many people work beyond 65 years of age, have healthcare benefits through employment, make significant contributions to society, are very active, and do not consider themselves "old." Our society, however, has stereotyped older people with misconceptions and negative attitudes using terms such as frail, a burden, and out of touch. This leads to ageism which is the stereotyping, prejudice, and discrimination against people on the basis of their age. Ageism is a barrier to developing sound public policy for people as they age, marginalizes them, and have adverse effects on their health and well-being. The theme of Older Americans Month 2020 is "Make Your Mark" to celebrate the countless contributions older people make to our communities. Whether people live in assisted living, nursing homes, or independently in the community, they are someone's parent, sibling, or friend whose life-long experience and wisdom contribute to our society. As members of that society, we must speak out against ageism and influence the dialog and the policies to promote healthy aging, protect older people wherever they live, and avoid stereotyping not only this month but every month. But this month, let us stop and reflect on the wonderful memories we have and continue to make with older people who have contributed to our lives in so many wonderful ways.
Be safe, and stay well!!
Tara A. Cortes, PhD, RN, FAAN
View: May 2020 Newsletter