Last week, we discussed the profound effect of old age on longevity, physical and cognitive health, recovery from illness, and more. This week we will continue the discussion and look at different forms of aging and some initial thoughts on what we can do about it.
Aging comes in many forms, fittingly helpguide.org.
Interpersonal ageism. This occurs between groups of two or more individuals. For example, a supervisor does not give you an assignment because of your age. A family member says, “We don’t expect him to keep up with us,” or “I don’t think you’ll understand what we’re talking about.” And then there’s the old talk, which simplifies the language as you raise your voice. Talk to older adults as if they were children.
Self-directed or personal ageism. Then we think about our own aging in negative ways that can easily lead to self-doubt. For example, you lose your keys, misplace an object or forget a person’s name and think it is the first sign of dementia. You don’t play sports because you’re too old, or you don’t use a computer because you think you’re too old to learn new technologies. These attitudes reinforce negative stereotypes about older people.
Institutional ageism. These are practices of institutions with laws, rules, social norms and policies and practices that systematically restrict opportunities for older adults simply based on their age. They can be so subtle that it is difficult to spot them. Institutional ageism occurs in the workplace when older workers are denied opportunities for which they are well qualified. It occurs when older adults are underrepresented in health-related research studies and clinical trials. It occurs when mental health professionals receive less training on how to work effectively with older adults.
One way to counter ageism is to start with ourselves and look at our own beliefs. If we are smart and self-aware, could we accommodate ageist attitudes? The answer is yes.” Dr. Robert N. Butler, renowned psychiatrist, geriatrician, and founding director of the National Institute on Aging, coined the word “age.” He suggests in his Pulitzer Prize-winning book, “Why Survive? Being Old in America” (Harper & Rowe, 1975), that besides lack of knowledge and contact with older adults, there is another reason for age. Butler wrote, “There is another powerful factor at work—a deep-seated prejudice and deep anti-elderly bias that is found in all of us to a certain degree’.
So how do we know if we have age beliefs?
Psychologist and author Tracey Gendron, chair of the Department of Gerontology, Virginia Commonwealth University in Virginia writes in “Aging Unmasked: Exploring Age Bias and How to End it,” (Steerforth Press, 2022) to ask the following questions:
- “How do you feel about yourself as an older person?”
- “Are you very focused on appearance?”
- “What feelings and emotions come to the surface when you realize that you, along with the rest of us, are getting older?”
- “How do you feel in your skin compared to five, 10, 15 or even 20 years ago?”
The answers can give us a beginning clue about how we feel about aging and how our own feelings and beliefs might extend beyond ourselves.
Gendron further recommends thinking about where we learned about aging. Do we have any role models? Were they positive or negative? How did they influence us? She suggests saying our thoughts out loud or writing them in a journal.
Finally, she suggests thinking about our experiences and how they have brought us to where we are today; how we grew and matured and we give ourselves credit for that. In answering these questions, Gendron writes that we can rearrange our thinking about aging and even rewire our brains to challenge assumptions that aging is all about loss.
To determine whether we have ageist beliefs, check out the test by the Australian advocacy campaign EveryAGE Counts, which is elderly approach against older Australians with “Am I Ageist?” test.
Another resource is the book “This Chair Rocks; A Manifesto Against Ageism’ (Celadon, 2019) by activist and author Ashton Applewhite, who also provides a comprehensive information center on age-related resources. her blog, “Yo: Is this Ageist?” answer individual questions about whether or not a situation, ad, movie, or even a thought is ageist.
There is more. October 7, 2022, is Older Persons Awareness Day, which is part of the United Nations Day of Older Persons. Expect much more on this important topic in October.
That’s it for now. Stay well and be kind to yourself and others.
Helen Dennis is a nationally recognized leader on aging and the new retirement with academic, corporate, and nonprofit experience. Contact Helen with your questions and comments at [email protected] Visit Helen at HelenMdennis.com and follow her at facebook.com/SuccessfulAgingCommunity