What do Older Adults Need to Thrive?

This blog post originally appeared on Medium.com.

by Maria Eugenia Hernandez-Lane

This is a question that I have consistently asked throughout my time with the National Hispanic Council on Aging. This question has helped guide along our goals as an organization dedicated to improving the lives of Hispanic older adults, their families and caregivers. So, what do older adults need to thrive? The question itself seems very simple, yes. There are a number of things you could argue are essential for seniors to thrive. But, for Hispanic seniors in the U.S., these needs come down to one thing: being seen and treated with the dignity of a human being. The conversation around aging in underrepresented communities is often shied away from and by refusing to talk about it or listen to the voices of others talking about it, we’re doing a great injustice to the many lives that this conversation affects — lives like that of Maria, a dear friend and member of the NHCOA Leaders Network.

Maria is 78 years old — but you couldn’t tell that just by looking at her. Since she has retired she has been busier than ever, working to help other seniors get the benefits and services they are entitled to. Maria is a graduate of our Leadership Program: Empowerment and Civic Engagement Training sessions that are held in cities across the country every year. She is passionate about the rights of seniors in the housing facility where she lives. She has even brought community-wide awareness about the poor and inhumane conditions that seniors face in the facility because of abandonment and a lack of resources. Maria has stepped up, along with other seniors, to advocate in DC, bringing the media to see, firsthand, the conditions that seniors live in at the facility. She is an incredibly optimistic and strong older adult, who is passionate and believes in giving, advocating for her community, and spreading love. She is the image of healthy, energy, and independence, that has mobilized her community to raise awareness about the importance of caring about our seniors. People like her are the reason I love the work I do everyday.

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The forums NHCOA has held in Miami and other parts of the country have revealed many of the disparities than Hispanic older adults face throughout the country. We found a very staggered rate of homeownership within the Hispanic community that was far less than the national average rate, at 80 percent, of Americans age 65 and older who own their houses[1]. These numbers tell a bigger story about the lives and hardships of Hispanic older adults living in the U.S. that NHCOA brought attention to in our Status of Hispanic Older Adults: Recommendations from the Field report.

Despite all the challenges, Hispanic older adults are full of hope. They hope to be seen, to be listened to, to be recognized as members of society; and those who are able to work, hope to be able to get a job and continue to be independent. Maria is a shining example of the perseverance and drive that lives in the spirit of every Hispanic older adult facing challenges in their lives. Although this community continues to encounter hurdles, they will not back down and remain bonded in their willingness to learn and thrive when we engage and present them with opportunities to be heard. Hispanic older adults are a source of wisdom, inspiration, and power that anyone — no matter what background, race, or ethnicity, can learn from. Let’s treat them as such and help them to thrive.

[1] National Hispanic Council on Aging. Status of Hispanic Older Adults: Recommendations from the Field. http://www.nhcoa.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/NHCOA-Status-of-HOA-Final-10-27-15.pdf,(October 2015).

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Diverse Elders Coalition.