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Fostering Connections for Older Adults Starts with Acknowledging Ageism and Intersecting Inequities

At Justice in Aging, we advocate for low-income older adults year-round, but Older Americans Month is an opportunity to reflect, dig deeper, and think about how our advocacy and unique legal expertise can advance equitable access to essential services for older adults who face the greatest barriers.

Every May, the Administration for Community Living leads the nation’s observance of Older Americans Month (OAM), and, fittingly, the 2024 theme is Powered by Connection, which recognizes the profound impact of connectedness in supporting independence and combatting loneliness.

Social connection is one form of connection that can support older adults. Equally important is the ability to connect to the services and supports low-income older adults need to access health care, income supports, legal assistance, and other essential services. The programs that provide these services can be difficult for anyone to navigate. However, they are especially difficult for older adults who have marginalized identities combined with the usual challenges of aging.

Systemic ageism plays a role in making our systems less accessible and more burdensome to people as they grow older because the needs of older adults are not always considered when building those systems. Lack of access to needed supports can lead to isolation, depression, and an inability to meet basic needs. When ageism is combined with racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, and other forms of bias and systemic discrimination, the barriers to connection, and to accessing health care, housing, and income benefits are compounded.

Lack of access to needed supports can lead to isolation, depression, and an inability to meet basic needs.

This is why we launched our Strategic Initiative to Advance Equity in 2021. Since then, we’ve created a number of resources and engaged in advocacy aimed at helping advocates and policymakers build better systems for the older adults who have the highest needs.

We’re especially proud of the Special Report, Fulfilling the Promise of Equity for Older Adults: Opportunities in Law and Policy, that we released in October 2023. The report examines the intersectional nature of discrimination that many low-income older adults face, focuses on the role of law and policy in making structural changes, and includes an At a Glance version with five concrete policy recommendations.

We followed up that report with a series on supporting older adults reentering our communities after incarceration to ensure they can connect with the health care, housing, and income supports they need. Read more about our reentry work.

At the end of 2023, we also released a report entitled, Justice for Tribal Elders: Issues Impacting American Indian and Alaska Native Older Adults, which offers legal and aging advocates information on health, economic, and other barriers for tribal elders and examines the laws, government programs, and eligibility rules unique to tribal communities.

In 2023, we also created an Equity Framework for Evaluating and Improving Medicaid Home and Community-Based Services (HCBS). The framework includes five domains in which inequities in HCBS can arise and provides a starting point for thinking about and evaluating equity in HCBS.

This year, we launched a new series on how guardianship impacts marginalized communities, which examines how guardianship strips older adults of their rights. The series also explores the reasons why older adults of color, LGBTQ+ older adults, and others with marginalized identities are more likely to be put under guardianship and more likely to be lose their unique cultural identities under guardianship. Preserving rights and autonomy also helps older adults remain connected in their communities and with their chosen supporters.

As advocates, by thinking broadly and inclusively about all the older adults our work touches, we can create better and more equitable systems so that all older adults can access the services and supports they need to age in dignity and justice. We hope you find these resources helpful for your advocacy during Older Americans Month and all year round, and join us in our work to make equitable systems for all of us as we age.

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