May is Older Americans Month! Each year, the Administration on Community Living (ACL) within the Federal government sponsors this month of recognition with a theme that changes from year to year. Whether you are one of our more than 49 million older Americans or if your aim is to join their ranks in the future, this year’s theme for Older Americans Month 2019 is truly important. This year we are celebrating ‘connect, create, and contribute’. In keeping with the ACL’s focus, this theme centers on living well in our communities and highlights the significance of and ways to connect, create, and contribute in our own lives and to those in our communities. Connecting, creating, and contributing make for richer lives, stronger social networks, and better communities. Surprisingly, connecting, creating, and contributing works for your healthcare too.

  • Connect with friends, family, and services that support participation.
    • Connecting enables you to share information about who you are, your values, and your goals with your physicians, nurses, and other healthcare providers. Many of us likely often read or hear about how necessary it is to have ‘goals of care conversations’ with healthcare providers like physicians and nurse practitioners. These conversations are key to making effective healthcare decisions, especially when facing a serious illness. Sadly, though, such conversations often feel forced and disconnected from our real lives and what matters to us. A good way to avoid that disconnected feeling is to focus on connections and sharing values, wishes, desires, and preferences.
    • Talk with your family and close friends to be sure they know what is important to you about your health and any conditions like cancer or arthritis for which you are receiving care. Share that same information with the doctors, nurses, social workers, and others who care for you. You’ll be able to participate in your healthcare the way you wish, knowing everyone who cares about you and for you understands what you want and need.
  • Create by engaging in activities that promote learning, health, and personal enrichment.
    • Creating your own healthcare might sound backward. We typically think of healthcare providers creating our care. In truth, our healthcare should be about all about us. It should provide information, education, treatment, and a real sense of caring and compassion to help us live as well as we can as long as we can by promoting health and well-being. Today, taking an active role in our own care is critical to getting what we need and want for our health and well-being. As a result, thinking about creating our own healthcare turns out to make a good deal of sense.
    • A new national program called Age Friendly Health Systems urges healthcare providers to be ‘age-friendly’ and ask ‘what matters to you?’ every time they care for a person aged 65 and older. Why not take the first step, instead of waiting for someone in healthcare to do it? Start creating your own healthcare by talking about what matters to you to members of your healthcare team. What matters can be as simple as saying “I really value my independence” or “I like reading information about health conditions before I talk about them.” It can also be more complicated and emotional. In addition, sometimes for some of us, directly telling a physician or a nurse what matters to you feels uncomfortable. Ask one of the family members or friends with whom you’ve connected and shared your healthcare wishes to help with that conversation!
  • Contribute time, talent, and life experience to benefit others.
    • Contributing your time, talent, and experience might appear a world away from healthcare. Not true! Your personal experience of healthcare is very valuable. Taking time to share your unique perspective with others who faces a similar situation is one way to give to of your time and your talent. Only you possess the insights you’ve gained through health and illness. Only you can encourage others from the insider’s point of view. Volunteering is one way you can contribute to the lives of others. And please don’t forget to offer your wisdom to your healthcare team. Your responses to satisfaction surveys are always helpful. A personal comment about your experience may create an even greater contribution. You might offer such commentary in person or through email or a hand written note. Both the healthcare professional with whom you speak and others on the team will learn from what you share.
      This May and through every month that follows, take a moment to connect, create, and contribute to your own healthcare and to the care other older Americans receive in the future. You’ll be glad you took the time and made the effort!