Recognizing Older People as Strong and Vibrant

Older Americans Month 2021 Communities of Strength masthead

In May, we celebrate Older Americans Month and the contributions of older people throughout our communities and our nation.

The 2021 theme—“Communities of Strength”—is so appropriate for this year of continued COVID. We celebrate the strength of older adults and those who love and care for them, the power of connection and engagement in building strong communities. In Seattle-King County, we have shown enormous strength and support for older people throughout the pandemic.

Community is important to most people. For ideas of ways to safely connect with community this month, while the pandemic continues to put people at risk, click here. You’ll find additional ideas in the AgeWise article that follows this one.

Not to take away from the celebration but, hopefully, add food for thought, I wonder at our culture of aging, and how deeply embedded perceptions about aging influence our individual abilities to support older people and ourselves. I have been fortunate to have strong relationships with older people. I recognize their strength, resilience, and vibrancy. Perceptions run the gamut from strength to weakness, though, and I know people who pay lip service to the value of older adults.

I’m guessing it’s unintentional, but our actions and language can contribute to disregard and neglect—the opposite of the goals for Older Americans Month. Just look up synonyms for “aging” (which is a fact—something we all do) or “senior citizens” (a label) or even “retirement” and you’ll find mostly pejorative terms. And who among us has never made a disparaging remark about growing older? As much as we may dislike it, these words and comments are embedded deep in our upbringing.

Let’s try to talk about people in realistic terms—some people are younger, and some people are older, relative to your audience or topic. Generally, I feel people don’t deserve to be labelled according to their generation or by words that may imply weakness or withdrawal.

For more about the language we use when talking about older people, read the FrameWorks Institute’s perspective and approach to aging and other issues. Watch those common phrases—for instance, if you refer to an older person as being “young at heart,” what are you really saying about older people? I know plenty of energetic older people with plenty of heart!

Check out the FrameWorks Institute’s quick-start guide here as well as “Framing Strategies to Advance Aging and Address Ageism as Policy Issues.”

Returning to Older Americans Month, I want to take this opportunity to thank the good people who work at and with Aging and Disability Services—the Area Agency on Aging for Seattle & King County. ADS, as it’s often called, and community partners work on an ongoing basis to help older people, adults with disabilities, and caregivers get their basic needs met and maintain physical, behavioral, and financial health.

On behalf of the ADS Advisory Council, I want to thank ADS staff for making a difference in the lives of more than 51,000 individuals in 2020. Their commitment and professionalism are exceptionally strong.

Also, I want to thank Cathy Knight for her leadership at Aging and Disability Services and among Area Agencies on Aging across the nation. In April, Cathy announced that she was stepping down from her role as ADS Director to consult privately with Aging Network agencies statewide. It has been my pleasure to work with her for the past four years. I know our paths will continue to cross as we advocate on behalf of older people, adults with disabilities, and caregivers in Olympia and Washington, D.C. in the years to come.

Dick WooContributor Dick Woo chairs the Seattle-King County Advisory Council on Aging & Disability Services. He welcomes input from readers via e-mail ( as well as applicants for open positions on the council. For more information, visit

This article originally appeared in the May 2021 issue of AgeWise King County.