I have recently been trying to develop something akin to guidelines for positive aging. This is a work in progress. There are, so far, three items on this list, with new and exciting research to demonstrate their importance.
LET’S END AGEISM and negative stereotypes
In spite of the repugnance of ageist stereotypes, we are not likely to have escaped their clutches. This is no small matter. Ageism is everywhere, and it is not good for our health or happiness or longevity
There are serious consequences, as we reported in our 70Candles! book:
Many institutions won’t hire anyone over 55, for fear we won’t be in tune with the younger generation or with the newest technology.
“I’m in a business where I know I wouldn’t have been hired if I admitted my age.”
“I feel invisible in a crowd of younger people, and when I do get repeated attention, and think I’m being admired, it turns out I remind that young person of a grandma or favorite aunt!”
We hear terms of endearment from receptionists, and on the phone, like “dear,” “sweetie,” “honey,” that we use to address our young grandchildren or our pets.
When someone says something like “she’s 70 years young” they think they are being cute and flattering. I want to scream, “70 is old! And that’s okay!”
Social change is needed to educate about and eliminate ageism, particularly now as the population ages and the baby-boomers now reach their senior years.
And, by the way, there is a significant negative impact on one’s health, life-satisfaction, and actual longevity, if even as children we have negative views of old people.
The first response by many, to the thought of a 70-year-old and older woman, as supported by the preponderance of current literature, is failing mental and physical functioning. When I began my literature review for my thesis, I typed “70 year-old women” into Google Scholar. Nine entries fit onto page one, and titles included “Balance training in 70-year-old women,” “Periodontal conditions in 70-year-old women with osteoporosis,” “Epidemiology of osteoporosis and osteoporotic fractures,” “Cost effectiveness of treatment to lower cholesterol levels in patients with coronary heart disease,” and so on. My husband suggested I call my thesis “Look at All the Pills on Granny’s Night Stand.”
Then this summer, for the first time, I typed “70 year-old men” into Google Scholar, and the first three articles that popped up were “Sperm output of older men,” “Fertility and the Aging Male,” and “Erectile Dysfunction in the Elderly.”
Becca Levy, a professor of psychology at Yale found that “Children as young as 3 or 4 have already taken in the age stereotypes of their culture.” “These age stereotypes are communicated to children through many sources, ranging from stories to social media. Individuals of all ages can benefit from bolstering their positive images of aging.”
She found that older adults with positive beliefs about old age were less likely to develop dementia, including those who are genetically disposed.
Levy explains, “We know . . . that exposing older individuals to negative age stereotypes exacerbates stress, whereas exposing them to positive age stereotypes can act as a buffer against experiencing stress.”
In fact, the results of her research make the case “for implementing a public health campaign against ageism and negative age beliefs.” Even “individuals in their 80s and 90s can strengthen their positive images of aging.”
Finally, a physician has written about ageism in hospitals. “Over the years, I’ve become more and more aware of ageism in health care — a bias against full treatment options for older patients. Assumptions about lower capabilities, cognitive status and sedentary lifestyle are all too common. There is a kind of ‘senior profiling’ that occurs among hospital staff, and this regularly leads to misdiagnoses and inappropriate medical care.”
In other studies it’s been demonstrated that all too often negative attitudes about aging arise from anxiety over impending changes in physical ability and appearance, or worries about loneliness, or boredom. However, many studies of older adults debunk these perceptions. Older adults can and do live enriching and very active lives — so these perceptions aren’t rooted entirely in reality.
The bottom line for me is that we have a unique opportunity, now, to redirect the discourse about aging so it includes the positive aspects of old age. Our health and well-being depend on it.
Let’s do whatever we can to end Ageism. Hear Something, Say Something…TELL YOUR AGE!