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Bringing Seniors’ Issues to Light

March 10, 2011

by Betsy Bowman

I grew up in New Jersey, and studied and worked in the Washington DC area before settling in Texas, where I worked as a nurse and nurse educator for many years. When I retired, I returned to Washington.

At 76, I am what some would call an “active senior.” At the same time, I move slower than I used to, due to several health issues. I am grateful that the crosswalks here announce how many seconds remain to cross the street. Our city has great public transportation—much better than in many other cities. Buses, the subway and Metro Access make it so easy to get around.

While I know that many senior experience isolation – which can be crushing — I don’t worry about it because I live among other residents at Friendship Terrace, an affordable senior living community near Tenleytown, and am active not only with that diverse  community but also with St. Columba’s Episcopal Church and Iona Senior Services, the nonprofit organization that  supports people as they experience the challenges, and opportunities, of aging.

 Through my work at St. Columba’s and also the Episcopal USA Older Adult Ministry Task Force, I’m focused on two important topics: elder abuse and seniors contracting or living with HIV/AIDS. Elder abuse can happen in any family—no matter what the income level. Seniors are taken advantage of emotionally, sexually, financially and physically, or even suffer from self-neglect. A good resource is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s fact sheet, “Understanding Elder Maltreatment.”

As a nurse, I am deeply concerned about the increasing numbers of seniors in our region who are living with HIV/AIDS or are newly diagnosed with the disease. Many people of my generation are naive when it comes to HIV. They assume it is an automatic death sentence, or a disease associated with younger people while, in fact, one of the growing populations with the disease is men over 60. The awkward truth is, people don’t talk about the fact that seniors are sexually active.  But sex doesn’t die with age….nor do sexually transmitted diseases. “The Body” Web site offers useful information on Older People and HIV and Whitman-Walker Clinic has the facts on HIV/AIDS and older Americans.

There are a number of ways to get involved with helping older Americans.  I’d like to see more people working together to address these issues—whether through the faith community, through the local health department or office on aging, or local nonprofits that focus on issues relating to aging. One very effective place to start is to lobby for funding and passage of the Older Americans Act, which is up for renewal this year.

Among her other activities, Betsy Bowman oversees Older Adult Ministries at St. Columba’s Episcopal Church in Washington, DC. 

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