Op-Ed: Productive engagement as an aim to prolong life

By Andrea Hernandez and Brenda Valenzuela

The battle for engaging older adults in society has become a preliminary struggle for many, as ageist attitudes and outdated social structures limit their engagement and contributions to society. Productive engagement helps maintain social ties, economic security, and health in later life, yet many older individuals are lacking these sources. In 2010, it was reported by the U.S. Census Bureau that 11 million people over the age of 65 lived alone, a probable outcome of social disengagement. Disengagement puts older adults at risk for social isolation, lack of support, cognitive decline, and a decrease in life expectancy. Thus, we cannot be complacent with the social structures that have been already set in place for an older population that continues to change.

It is inadmissible to say that policies and programs in the United States that support older adults exist when researchers show that they are not widespread enough. Although such policies and programs exist, the lack of engagement in society hinders the accessibility of such resources. As community members, it is our responsibility to create opportunities where seniors can optimize their self-esteem, expand their abilities to be socially connected, and be able to choose their route of care. We need to do everything in our hands to encourage seniors to be a part of an environment where they are offered choices, inclusion opportunities, and support systems. This will foster economic growth, enhance skills necessary for the work force, and cultivate social engagement with peers. 

As a community, we need to refocus and reshape ageist attitudes in order to increase productive engagement in the aging population. The assumption that older individuals will eventually engage in society and receive the help they need in order to live productive lives is unpromising. We need to increase the amount of support that older individuals receive by encouraging seniors to volunteer, raise awareness of the resourceful programs that are available, and maximize the support for caregiving services. Being more inclusive, communicating with the elderly, and encouraging them to contribute to society can promote engaging opportunities in society. 

We need to help our seniors preserve their individuality while contributing to society by restoring their confidence and motivation to sustain a relationship that continuously exchanges with one another. Creating a positive environment where aging individuals feel included, supported, and independent will enhance and prolong their quality of life. We need to encourage seniors to engage in society by getting them to join a club, offer family assistance, and cultivate social networks. But most importantly, we need to join them and set the example for them. Our parents made an unspoken promise to make sure our lives were better than theirs. We owe it to seniors, some of who are our parents, to help them gain economic security, social ties, and health in later life by persuading engagement in society. 

The authors of this op-ed are M.S.W. candidates at the University of Southern California.