We had a great opportunity to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day last month.
A gathering of our active older adults shared a meal and enjoyed the music of a modern day “Jug Band” as we commemorated the work of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his passion for civil rights. He fought the battle against racism for his and future generations, and there is certainly still plenty of work to do to root out deep-seated beliefs and behaviors related to it.
The “isms” in our lives need this type of regular attention to foster change in both action and attitude.
Ageism is no different. Ageism is defined as stereotyping individuals or groups on the sole basis of their age. The term was coined by Robert Neil Butler in 1969 to describe discrimination against older adults, and was patterned after the commonly known issues of sexism and racism. Now, 50 years later, we also use it to describe preconceived ideas about older adults which most often do not pair up with the facts.
“A Place for Mom” recently surveyed 2,000 16- to 34-year-olds on their view of seniors and the aging process. Adding to that, “The Active Times” highlighted the most common myths young adults have about older adults.
Here are just some of the ageism ideas floating around which could use some adjustment:
‘Old’ starts at age 58-62. In truth, many active older adults claim they are in their peak stride at this age. Most don’t retire fully until age 70. Additionally, many are in the midst of raising teenagers or even younger children, choosing to start families later in life. It’s notable that ages 50-60 are now viewed as “middle age.” Hardly “old” in the traditional sense of the word.
Seniors can’t adapt to change. If you have a difficult time adapting to change as a younger person, it will likely be the same as you grow older. “The Active Times” says this is more a personal preference or personality trait than an age-related one. Also, “considering most 80-year-olds have managed a great deal of change in the course of their lifetime, it is nothing to hold against them.”
Older people are unhappy or crabby. Again, if this was your personality as a young person, it will likely follow you into your senior years. But, generally, experts note that seniors are “happier than the general population.” They are not immersed in social media comparisons, are more apt to like their physical appearance, are less likely to be influenced by other people’s opinions, and are more likely to try new activities.
The older you are, the worse you drive. The reality is, “older drivers aren’t all that more dangerous than their younger counterparts.” In fact, The Federal Highway Safety Administration’s crash data shows people under age 34 are twice as likely to have been involved in a crash. Older drivers are more likely to follow speed limits and road rules, take driver safety classes, and use new car safety features, making them better drivers overall.
All older people get dementia. We all forget stuff: appointments, where we put our keys or phone, or the name of an acquaintance. Temporary memory lapses or “senior moments” often have more to do with stress, sleep deprivation, or inattentiveness than aging. Ask a parent of an infant and they will claim the same trouble. At every age, our brains and our bodies need regular workouts, rest and good nutrition to stay healthy and strong. However, the risk of memory loss related illnesses do grow as you age, with the highest number affecting seniors 80 and older. If you think your memory issues are unusual, seek out the advice of a neurologist or medical professional. Other treatable ailments can also cause similar symptoms.
Older people are lonely. It is true that, as we grow older and our families and lifestyles change, we have more alone time. This can bring on feelings of loneliness. But, many older adults are learning to fill their time with activities to combat it. They are taking on part time jobs, picking up new hobbies, participating in community events, and learning computer skills to connect with long distance friends and family. Local communities are also looking for better ways to reach isolated seniors, increasing programs and resources for them.
What is the upside to the youngsters’ view of aging? They are looking forward to growing old! When “A Place for Mom” asked what they were excited about when it comes to growing old, they listed having more time to: spend with loved ones, travel, and do hobbies. They also said they can’t wait to “care less about what others think of you” and to spend time with future grandchildren. It certainly does pay to “grow up!”
The Chanhassen Senior Center and Chan Rec Center continue to work to negate the language of ageism. We offer exercise and educational classes, musical programs, meals and more. We have space available for your small group to meet for hobbies, games, exercise and more. Let us help you stay engaged, active and “ism” free.