“Ageism” was coined in 1969, two years after the Federal Discrimination in Employment Act set the age of forty as the lower bound at which workers could complain of it.
Blatant evidence of ageism includes addressing older people in “elderspeak”—high, loud tones and a simplified vocabulary—and using nouns like “coot” and “geezer” and “sweetie” or adjectives like “decrepit” or “cute old lady.” The ageist person can’t grasp that most older people don’t feel so different from their youthful selves.
Zuckerberg once observed, “Young people are just smarter,” and the venture capitalist Vinod Khosla has said that “people over forty-five basically die in terms of new ideas.” These are “Ageist Stereotypes.”
- Those over age 40 continue to rise: the average lifespan grew more in the twentieth century than in all previous history.
- By 2020 (only 2 years away), for the first time, there will be more people on Earth over the age of sixty-five than under the age of five.
Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging reports, “Those holding more negative age stereotypes earlier in life had significantly more accumulation of tangles and amyloid plaques.” Negative and ageist thinking about aging – can predict our OWN aging!
- So, if we think of aging as a negative decline – that thought-process evolves and we become the manifestation of negative ageist stereotypes we feared. Studies indicate that thinking of aging positively will contribute to our own positive aging.
- Like the racist and the sexist, the ageist rejects an “Other” based on a perceived difference.
But ageism is singular because it’s directed at a group that at one point wasn’t the “Other”—and at a group that the ageist will one day, if all goes well, join. The ageist thus insults his own future self.
Ashton Applewhite, who wrote “This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism” made the point that older people may not be qualitatively different from “youngers.” She notes the following:
- only ten percent of Americans who are at least eighty-five live in nursing homes
- and that half of those over eighty-five don’t have caregivers; for the most part – they are cognitively robust, sexually active, and enjoy better mental health than the young or middle-aged.
Attitude about Aging can impact your own aging experience.
I want you to feel great about aging!
The path to that bliss is obscure, though, because all of us think we are aging wrong. We not only have a culture promoting the stereotypes of decline, but also the opposite – “positive aging.” or “anti-aging.’ Comparing your state of mind to the birth date on your driver’s license gives the number more power than it deserves.
My way out of the aging pickle is looking for more examples in the media, in the neighborhood, in my church, in my research – many more. I am looking for examples of older people living ordinary lives, neither drooling nor dazzling. You and I can be role models and examples as we embrace elderhood as the crescendo of a lifetime!
In most ancient and remote societies, the few people who lived to old age were esteemed as teachers and custodians of culture. This is a comforting idea – if ageism is a by-product of the modern world, it should be relatively easy to reverse. Don’t you think we can do it? Can we all advocate for our own future selves?
“Aging is not lost youth but a new stage of opportunity and strength.” – Betty Friedan
Ashton Applewhite, creator of the blog Yo, Is This Ageist? , says the size of the boomer generation should be an advantage when shifting the discourse around aging.
Watch Applewhite’s funny, insightful, and poignant 11 minute Ted Talk about ageism here. It is 11 minutes well spent as we are all – if we are lucky – going to age.
About the author: Jean Garboden is an Elder Advocate and Eden Alternative Educator with over 30 years’ experience in not-for-profit and for-profit healthcare organizations. She is honored to lead the mission and values culture development for Compass Senior Living in Eugene, Oregon. Jean lives in Las Vegas, Nevada where she enjoys the weather and volunteers with the Nevadans for the Common Good, advocating for caregivers and elders in southern Nevada