Raising Awareness About Aging And Ageism
By Jo Strausz Rosen
I just reread, This Chair Rocks – A Manifesto Against Ageism by anti-ageism advocate Ashton Applewhite. And I recently listened to a style podcast that featured, Ms. Applewhite, whom I follow on Instagram. At 70, she says, she is just coming into her own as an individual.
“Ageism is defined as discrimination against persons of a certain age group. There is a tendency to regard older people as debilitated, unworthy of attention, or unsuitable for employment, “ she says. “Ageism is prejudice and alienation against our own future selves.”
Why are so many reluctant to share their age? Are we sometimes our own worst critics?
Applewhite and her associates have created a helpful website that can be found at the anti-ageism clearinghouse, oldschool.info. The website contains articles, reports, papers, books, blogs, talks, videos, organizations tools, and podcasts about ageism.
The overall message is that we must question policies and negative messaging to advocate for older adults. We need to call attention to comfortable default language we use about aging. We need to examine our own ways of thinking and talking about aging and how we treat and talk to older adults.
Other cultures venerate their elders and give them high status in their communities. Let’s take a lesson from Iris Apfel and other magnificent role models who simply grow more comfortable as themselves as they age. They swim against the tide of ageism toward more meaningful, purposeful lives for as long as they are alive.
Consider artists who produce art well into their nineties. Henri Matisse, at 84 years old, created his paper cutouts from his sick bed. He was creative up to the end. By the time she reached 86, Maya Angelou had completed 43 celebrated works, including books, poetry essays, children’s books, plays, movie scripts, and two memoirs. What this says to me is that even as our bodies age, our spirits do not have to diminish. In fact, they can grow brighter.
Ageism can affect people of any age. And we are all aging.
It’s in the greeting card aisle. “Happy Birthday. Oh No! You’re OLD!” It’s in the words we use. “I’m having a SENIOR moment.” It’s in pharmaceutical advertisements targeting my husband and myself when we watch the evening news. From AARP ads to arthritis medicine, we often turn the sound off, so we don’t have to listen to the alphabet soup of drug names for every disease known to afflict the aging body.
What is the positive impact of combating ageism?
Research tells us that ageism has a powerful impact at the individual level. Older people with positive age bias are 44% more likely to recover from severe disability. *
Older adults with positive self-perceptions of aging live 7.5 years longer, on average, than elders with less positive self-perceptions of aging. **
Our elders are a dynamic resource within our society. We have a unique opportunity to disrupt ageism. Recently several members of JSL leadership attended the national conference presented by Leading Age, a group of non-profit service providers for aging adults.
Leading Age members are already taking steps every day, hosting community conversations with staff, elders, and boards of directors. They are changing the language we use – for example from “elderly” to “elder” or “older adult”, and from “facility” to “community”. Leading Age members are partnering with academic institutions to conduct research and infusing intergenerational connections into the daily life of organizations.
The work we do at Jewish Senior Life is important, providing homes for older adults, programs and services that provide meaning and joy in the lives of residents, volunteers, families, and staff. We attend national and local conferences, and our own Barbra Giles is Immediate Past President of Leading Age Michigan.
We can make a positive impact on the lives of older adults. I hope you will investigate these resources and explore how you can make a difference.
*This Association Between Positive Age Stereotypes and Recovery from Disability in Older Persons, JMA, 2012:308 (19): 1972-1973. Levy, Slade, Murphy, and Gill
**Longevity Increased by Positive Self-Perceptions of Aging,” Beca R. Levy and Martin D. Slade, Yale University, Suzanne Kunkel, Miami University of Ohio, and Stanislav V. Kasl, Yale University, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol.83, No.2.