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Oct. 7 is designated as Ageism Awareness Day, a vital opportunity to think about how we treat older adults and how we want to be treated as we age. Unfortunately, our society reinforces negative stereotypes about age, but with greater awareness and intention, we can change our attitudes and reframe aging.
Consider how the public and the media portray President Joe Biden, Sen. Mitch McConnell and the late Sen. Dianne Feinstein based on age instead of other influencing factors like health or leadership style.
This Oct. 2 cover of The New Yorker depicting Biden, McConnell, Rep. Nancy Pelosi and former President Donald Trump using walkers is disheartening, to say the least, through an ageism lens.
According to a CBS News/YouGov survey reported by Axios, 75% of voters favor maximum age limits for elected officials.
Biological age is not a singular determinant – we all age differently. It is time to reframe stereotypes about not being fit for work or public office once a person reaches an arbitrary age.
It’s their “stage not age,” borrowing from a book title by Susan Wilner Golden.
Hey, New Yorker: THIS is seriously your cover for next week’s magazine? Not only is it incredibly ageist but it’s ableist & a slap in the face to every person in America who needs a walker & who has a disability. This is disgusting & vulgar beyond words. Just STOP it already. pic.twitter.com/Y0IkTa30G0
— Victor Shi (@Victorshi2020) September 25, 2023
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People of all age groups have faced ageism
A 2002 study titled “Longevity increased by positive self-perceptions of aging” revealed that individuals with a more positive self-perception of aging lived, on average, 7.5 years longer than those with less positive self-perceptions. Furthermore, people with a more positive self-perception about aging experienced better overall health.
According to the World Health Organization, ageism often intersects with other forms of stereotypes, prejudices and discrimination including ableism, sexism and racism.
And to be clear, ageism is not just a problem for older adults; people of all age groups have been targets of age stereotyping at various times in their lives.
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Three steps to changing the narrative on ageism
So how do we change this narrative?
First, we need to recognize the value that people of all ages, including older adults, bring to our communities through employment, volunteerism and civic engagement.
Second, we need to break down our age-segregated silos and build relationships, programs and communities that bridge generations and life experiences.
Third, we need policies that reflect the changing needs of people across the lifespan and promote opportunities for those who are able and choose to remain actively engaged.
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Consider how we treat older Americans and how we want to be treated
There is hope on the horizon. AgeWell’s Sage Awards on Oct. 30 will honor seven outstanding older adults for their lifelong community service and impact. Movements like AARP’s Age-Friendly Communities, State-led Multisector Plans for Aging and Reframing Aging Initiatives are also gaining traction across the country.
Locally, the Age-Friendly Nashville Initiative strives to create a community that supports our residents across the entire lifespan. What’s good for older adults is also good for young people and families.
The Multisector Plan for Aging in Tennessee is bringing together all sectors (public and private) to create a master plan to create the infrastructure and policies needed to help Tennesseans age well and support families caring for aging loved ones. Reframing Aging initiatives teach us to replace terms like “silver tsunami,” “senior citizen” and “elderly” with more accurate and positive terms like “as more of us grow older,” “older people” and “older adults.”
Whether on Ageism Awareness Day or any day, let’s take a moment to consider how we treat older people and how we want to be treated as we age.
Older adults are a vital and important part of our families and society. We make countless contributions and represent a meaningful and growing segment of our population.
Federal, state and local leaders need to re-examine policies and funding priorities, but equally important, we all need to change our attitudes. It’s time to flip ageist stereotypes on their head and value the wisdom and experience that we, as older adults, bring to our families, workplaces and communities.
Dianne Oliver is Executive Director of The West End Home Foundation.
Grace Sutherland Smith, LMSW, is Executive Director of AgeWell Middle Tennessee and co-chair of the Tennessee Coalition for Better Aging.
This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: Ageist attacks on Feinstein, Biden, others reinforce false stereotypes