By Kimberly Hiroto, PhD (Member, APA Committee on Aging)
We’re bombarded these days with information about how to prevent aging. Since when did aging become our enemy? Like any part of one’s demographics, age has its upsides and downsides, but somehow it’s permissible to explicitly state our dislike of getting older while similar statements about gender, race, or sexual orientation would generate an outcry of righteous fury. Yet we have greeting cards poking fun of older adults, and ageist jokes abound in almost all settings.
As a geropsychologist, I’ve even bought some of these to give to family, regretting my purchase only after the fact.
May is Older Americans month. Perhaps this is a good time to reflect upon ingrained ageism.
So how do we become aware of ageist attitudes and what can we do about it?
1. Raise your hand and become self-aware.
Many of us have chuckled at jokes about aging, often without considering the deeper meaning. Take a moment and consider your own beliefs about aging. Where did these beliefs come from? You can still be a good person despite holding some inaccurate beliefs about older adults! It’s a matter of what you do with these beliefs.
2. Embrace your age!
You earned those wrinkles from years of laughter, crying, and inquisitive looks upon learning new information. Research suggests that older adults actually outperform their younger counterparts in crystallized intelligence (knowledge gained from past experiences). Celebrate your history and focus on the positive.
3. To err is human
Listen for unintentional ageism among family, friends, and your colleagues at work. Many of us have made subtle and unintentionally offensive comments to others. These microaggressions manifest in both health care settings and the workplace, and can have deleterious effects on (older) adults’ physical and mental health. Listen for these statements to help recognize them. Practice makes perfect!
4. To forgive, divine
Ageism is not a sin. Forgive yourself and others for holding ageist attitudes and beliefs. As you practice listening for unintentional ageism, consider how you might wish to respond. Below is a list of myths vs. facts about aging to help clarify common misconceptions.MYTHREALITYDementia is an inevitable part of agingMost older adults are cognitively intactOlder adults have higher rates of mental illness, especially depressionOlder adults tend to have lower rates of depression than younger adultsMost older adults are more alike than not.The aging population remains a highly heterogeneous groupMost older adults are frail and illOlder adults are generally adaptive and in good functional healthOlder adults have no interest in sex or intimacyMost older adults have meaningful interpersonal and sexual relationships
5. Knowledge is power
Be curious about aging! We can choose to prevent the look of wrinkles while still embracing what they represent. The more we know about aging the more empowered we’ll feel and the healthier we’ll become!
Stay tuned for more… in the coming months, the APA Committee on Aging plans to partner with others to generate a series of posts related to diverse aspects of aging!
UPDATE: The first new post in the series focuses on elder abuse. Find it here.
Additional resources on aging and ageism:
Council of Professional Geropsychology Training Programs (CoPGTP)
APA Monitor on Psychology article – Speaking up against ageism
Lassell College’s “Talk of Ages“: Ageism Resources
“60 Minutes” segment on “Living to 90 and Beyond”
Kimberly Hiroto, PhD, is a Clinical Geropsychologist working at the American Lake VA in the Home Based Primary Care program. She served as the early career psychologist on the Task Force to update the APA Guidelines for Psychological Practice with Older Adults, and more recently serves as the early career psychologist on the APA Committee on Aging and co-chairs the APA Presidential Initiative on Patient Centered Medical Homes.
Image credit: RVTL Anti-Aging