May is Older Americans Month, a time to pay tribute to the older people in our lives. Since 1963, May has been set aside as a time to acknowledge the contributions, resilience and strength of older adults. This year it is more important than ever to do so.

The theme for this year’s Older Americans Month observation is “Communities of Strength.” Communities are formed when we come together to share stories; the stories of our older Americans can inspire us to persevere even through our most difficult days. Sharing stories gives us the opportunity to bond with one another, thereby demonstrating that we honor and value the important role that older adults play in our families as well as society.

The past year has been marked by significant challenges and has taken a toll on many of us. As the Covid-19 virus ravages the globe, it disproportionately affects the older generation, physically, psychologically and emotionally. The pandemic was particularly cruel to older adults, with mortality rates spiking among the elderly and chronically ill. But it also brought about a correlating pandemic of isolation as our nation went into lockdown and families were kept apart. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) cites a report from the National Academies of Sciences Engineering and Medicine showing that nearly 25 percent of adults over 65 are considered socially isolated, while a third of those 45 and over report feeling lonely.

Loneliness and isolation are serious concerns that can put our physical health at risk. For example, social isolation is associated with a 50 percent increased risk of dementia, a 29 percent increased risk of heart disease and a 32 percent increased risk of stroke, according to the CDC.

As Covid-19 vaccination rates climb, more and more families are finally able to be together for in-person visits. Seeing the smiles on the faces of grandparents who are able to embrace their grandchildren for the first time in more than a year tells us all we need to know about the healing power of connection.

Connecting with others, building communities of strength – even if we have had to rely on technology platforms such as cell phones and teleconferencing apps to do so – and sharing our stories are important ways to combat isolation and loneliness, improve our health, and continue to build resilience. This message is vitally important, not only during Older Americans Month, but all year long.