Most readers are probably familiar with other individuals who had notable achievements after reaching what the world generally considers to be retirement age. In fact, they could probably name some of them if asked. But “for starters” as the saying goes, we want to introduce readers to a couple of probably not-so-famous elders. The first is a fellow who in 2010, at the age of 96, became the world’s oldest bungee jumper. His name was Mohr Keet and he didn’t take up the sport until he was 89.
Another is Harriette Thompson who at age 91 completed her fifteenth marathon, a sport she first took up when she was 76. In another kind of racing Rosemary Smith became the oldest person to drive a Formula 1 car when she was 79. Yuichiro Miura reached the summit of Mount Everest at age 80 and then announced his hope to do so again once he reached 90.
Accounts such as these are not just feel-good stories told to inspire us, although they certainly do that. Rather they are concrete evidence of an often overlooked reality that, to use another expression that is not heeded enough, “age is just a number.”
The truth, of course, is that most 80 year-old men are not climbing the world’s highest mountains and most 79 year-old women aren’t speeding around the racetrack. If that were true we likely would not be paying attention to Mohr, Harriette, Rosemary, and Yuichiro’s stories. Equally true is the reality that many men and women of similar ages aren’t climbing or driving at all. Thousands are struggling with the challenges of just ascending the stairs each day or regularly relying on a neighbor to take them to important appointments. The types of folks described above represent the two different and distinct poles of the aging spectrum, in the middle of which the majority of older individuals live their daily lives.
That “middle majority” is growing as the population ages; and that majority also deserves our attention. Many among them may also warrant some assistance as well. What kind? Well, there is no sure, universal or pat answer to that question. But our work for decades in the so-called senior hunger space has shown us that of the three universally-recognized “basic necessities” — namely food, shelter and clothing – access to adequate nutrition is the one most often overlooked by the community around them. Why? We do not have a crystal-ball type answer to that critical question, but we can offer more than an educated guess.
Specifically, our literally decades of experience in senior hunger work suggests that these folks are not so much overlooked as their needs are unrecognized. These particular individuals are the ones we call the “hidden hungry,” although in reality they live in plain sight in every community across this vast and plentiful country.
Now, at last, as the world continues its robust reopening after several unusual years that have required or inadvertently promoted social isolation, NFESH wants first to recognize and then to thank and celebrate those many hundreds of community-based senior nutrition programs across the country which worked tirelessly and creatively over the past couple of years to ensure that the elderly, any and all seniors, in their communities received the meals they needed.
Beyond that, and looking to the future, we want to advocate for a rethinking both of what need really is — that is, how we should define and recognize it — and of ways to address it. We realize that this will be a complex and expensive endeavor. But it is surely less costly than ignoring it or waiting for the next crisis to be the catalyst for change. As the saying goes, “there is no time like the present.”