Photography is often powerful, capturing vast stories in a moment of time. Truly worth a thousand words, photos can be heartwarming or move you to tears—and even trigger a replay of your own fond memories.
This year’s photography content from the National Council on Aging (NCOA) achieves all that and more under the theme of “Caregiving—Aging Well for All,” and this year’s winners were recently unveiled at the NCOA’s Age+Action Conference in June, which featured speakers and sessions to help community-based groups better serve older adults.
“We’re trying to kind of amplify the reality of aging, taking some of the stigma out of it, and making it more realistic,” said Karen Davis, NCOA’s chief development and marketing officer. “We wanted to depict the faces and lives of older adults with an artistic expression. And this was our way of doing it.”
Cynthia Abatt’s “About These Fingernails” took first place. The photograph captures a heartwarming exchange between a resident and aide who have bonded over their similarities, rather than being separated by their differences.
“Everything about these two is different: their ages, their appearance, their assumed place in life, yet here they are discussing manicures or the lack thereof,” her caption reads. “We see the easy friendship between them, but anyone behind the scenes or anyone living with someone who is aging with challenges knows these kinds of relationships are hard fought and hard won. Perhaps it is the simpler things in life that help us bond after all.”
Through its photography contest, NCOA wanted to bring awareness to aging well and the role caregivers play in the process, to pull back the curtain and view the emotional side of caregiving. Photographers captured the essence of these unsung heroes in hundreds of images, showing moments of caring so often unnoticed by the outside world.
For amateur and professional photographers, there was no shortage of subjects or subject matter. According to NCOA, about 40 million American caregivers provide unpaid care to older adults and disabled people.
The images offer a glimpse into the caregiving world—a world so rarely in focus. The photographs unveil tender moments and joyous ones, the somber and sad. Images reflect everything from mundane activities to special occasions—the day-to-day companionship of caregivers and receivers and the celebration of snowfall in the fourth season of life.
“As we do these photo contests, our focus is really depicting what aging well looks like,” Davis said. “It was a way to reflect on those unsung heroes, family members that are taking care of loved ones.”
For many caregivers, the images have the power to validate and record what many fail to document of the everyday joys and struggles—those quiet predawn moments before the day begins in earnest, the moments you wait anxiously to hear your loved one’s next breath.
Some images focus on the bonds between caregivers and seniors formed outside of the family unit—photographs that display affection and trust.
Beyond showcasing the emotional impact of caregiving and the inestimable contribution these caregivers provide, the contest aims to shed light on the resources available for caregivers.
“We have a section for caregivers because being a caregiver is lonely,” Davis said. “Sometimes you’re happy. Sometimes you’re sad. We have resources for that.”
In addition to resources for caregivers, the website has different resources and tools based on an older adult’s particular stage of life. NCOA focuses on programs that help people age well and live with dignity in a just and caring environment.
“When we see things in the media or in Hollywood, it’s a little different. These are real life people you’re seeing,” Davis said.
The contest strives to give a realistic view of aging with dignity in a caring environment. The public is invited to view the submissions in the virtual gallery or on the NCOA Gallery page where you can vote for your favorite image.