Eras Senior Network | Engaging Generations, Supporting Seniors in WI

Reframing Aging

A note from our Executive Director:

At Eras, we strive to support and engage seniors in every Era of their life and part of our mission is to advocate for a society that respects and values the aging population. Despite the well-documented social, economic, and health impact of ageism, it’s time to focus public and political attention on ageism within diversity, inclusion, and racial equity work.

Join our team as we celebrate Ageism Awareness Day (October 7, 2023) which provides an opportunity to draw attention to the existence and impact of ageism in our communities. Check out this opinion piece, written by the American Society on Aging, on the importance of understanding ageism. Then, head to our page about Wisconsin's aging population and what Eras’ is doing in Milwaukee and Waukesha counties to combat ageism.

Let’s reframe how we talk about aging and older adults, together.

 

 

 

Darryl Anderson
Executive Director
Eras Senior Network

Check out other resources here


Aging Good … Ageism Bad
By Barbara Croyle

“There are six myths about old age: 1. That it’s a disease, a disaster. 2. That we are mindless. 3.That we are sexless. 4. That we are useless. 5. That we are powerless. 6. That we are all alike.” Maggie Kuhn, Founder of the Gray Panthers

“It is not true that people stop pursuing dreams because they grow old, they grow old because they stop pursuing dreams.” Gabriel García Márquez, Author

“By the time you’re 80 years old you’ve learned everything. You only have to remember it.” George Burns, Comedian

Which of these quotes can you relate to? And did you laugh at the last one? I bet you did. And maybe that’s okay as long as you don’t translate your own foibles onto every older adult you meet. That would be an example of ageism.

Ageism is defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) as “the stereotypes (how we think), prejudices (how we feel) and discrimination (how we act) towards others or oneself based on age.”

Also, according to WHO, ageism often intersects and interacts with other forms of stereotypes, prejudices and discrimination including ableism, sexism and racism. We know that any kind of prejudice or discrimination based on stereotypes can be harmful not just to the person being subjected to it, but also to the person doing the stereotyping. And to be clear, ageism is not just a problem for older adults; people of other age groups can be the target of this prejudice at various times in their lives.

In a 2005 article in the Journal of Social Issues Todd Nelson said, “Ageism is prejudice against our future self.”

Can that be healthy? No. Ageism can shorten a lifespan by 7.5 years, according to a 2002 study by Becca Levy. Individuals with a more positive self-perception of aging lived an average of 7.5 years longer than those with less positive self-perceptions. This advantage exists even after age, gender, socioeconomic status, loneliness and functional health were considered.

Furthermore, people with a more positive self-perception about aging experienced better overall health.

Consider how older people are typically portrayed in the media. Overall, there are still significant negative representations in advertisements, television and movies. These ageist stereotypes can have a negative impact on an older adult’s self-esteem, health status, physical well-being and cognitive performance. Also, in the absence of positive portrayals of older people, they are left to wonder, “Where are the people who look and act like me”?

Ageism is a hurtful, insulting and uninformed type of discrimination. Even well-intentioned “compliments” or comments—such as calling any older adult “honey” or “sweetie” promotes a demeaning and infantilizing view of an older person.

Older adults are a vital and important part of society. They make countless contributions and represent a meaningful and growing segment of the population.

On Ageism Awareness Day, Oct. 7, let’s take a moment to consider how we treat older adults and how we want to be treated as we age.

And maybe take a lesson from media star and philanthropist Oprah Winfrey who said: “Every year should teach you something valuable; whether you get the lesson is up to you. Every year brings you closer to expressing your whole and healed self.”

Or Frank Lloyd Wright, architect: “The longer I live, the more beautiful life becomes.”

Barbara Croyle, JD, is the Founder of AgingConfident LLC, and consults with family caregivers and solo agers in the greater Philadelphia area. She is also a member of the American Society on Aging’s Ageism & Culture Advisory Council.