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Addressing Ageism

Thursday, April 18, 2019   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Brennan Frazier
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Facing up to ageism
Commentary by Beth Stern

The recent focus in our nation on issues regarding race and gender roles has brought to the forefront two “isms” — racism and sexism — both major challenges in our society that need to be addressed. Conspicuously missing from this discussion is “ageism.” Aging simply isn’t a topic that most of us discuss but, in fact, aging is one thing we all have in common no matter how old we are.

Ageism permeates how we look at older adults and how they look at themselves. Commonly used terms such as “the elderly” or “the aged” perpetuate stereotypes of frailty. Robert Butler, a world renowned gerontologist, said, “Ageism allows the younger generations to see older people as different than themselves; thus they subtly cease to identify with their elders as human beings.” Most people are unaware of their ageist views. How many of us say things such as, “I’m having a senior moment,” “You look great for your age,” or “I’m not getting any younger?” We know from research that negative stereotypes about aging lead directly to poorer health and shorter lifespans. People with positive perceptions of aging actually live longer — an average of 7.5 years longer. We know that people will walk more slowly and tentatively if we talk about the frailties of aging than if we talk about the positive aspects of aging. Think about how powerful that message can be, day in and day out.

Last month, I turned 60 and thus, became eligible for services from the federal Older Americans Act. Common practice would have me hide my age, deny being an “older American” and be insulted if I am offered a senior discount. Instead, I celebrate reaching 60, because, honestly, not everyone does. It is not unusual for my family to live into our 90s, so, I figure I may have at least another 30 years on this planet. Predicting what I will be able to do when I am 90 is probably no more accurate than predicting what my 21-year-old son will be doing in five years.

Turning 60 does not mean I enter the “island of elders” rather than living into the future as a unique person. Aging does not just happen to others — it is vital that all of us focus on aging as an opportunity, finding innovative solutions to challenges we face as we all age and making the world a better place for what we all need as we grow older.

Adding ageism to the list of stereotypes we want to discard will only make our society stronger.

Beth Stern is a Marshfield resident and Central Vermont Council on Aging executive director.

Originally posted on the Times Argus.

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