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Don't let ageism define you

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, ageism is defined as, "prejudice or discrimination against a particular age-group and especially the elderly". In today's society, the sad truth is that older adults face ageism on a frequent basis. The reality is, each of us has a choice on whether we let ageism define us, and how we think about aging. An incredibly interesting article from npr discusses the effects of how we think about aging and how it impacts us.

Yale researcher Becca Levy summarized more than 20 years of research by saying, '"I found that older people with more-positive perceptions of aging performed better physically and cognitively than those with more-negative perceptions,"' Levy wrote. '"They were more likely to recover from severe disability, they remembered better, they walked faster, and they even lived longer."' These findings are absolutely astonishing considering the significant impact positive thinking about aging can have on us.

Of course, it is not as simple as snapping your fingers and removing any negative thoughts or stereotypes you have about age and aging. Ageism can reach many facets of our lives, including having effects on access to health care, work opportunities, housing, and more. The impacts and effects of ageism can be deeply internalized and represent significant hurt.

The good news is that there is something we can do to improve our positive age beliefs. Consider the following ABC's:

A - Increase Awareness

Making positive change regarding negative beliefs about aging starts with identifying and understanding problem areas.

  1. Language: For example, think about how you speak to the older people in your life. Are you more easily frustrated? Do you make assumptions that they won't understand things or do you speak at a louder volume?

  2. Imaging and Stereotypes: Think about media and how older adults are portrayed. Think about television shows, magazines and newspapers, and all forms of media and the messages they are sending.

  3. Diversity: Older people don't all have the same interests and not every older adult is like another. It is important to have a variety of people with a variety of ages to increase your positive aging influences.

B - Blame Ageism, Not Aging

Once you have recognized and identified your beliefs about aging, you can start to reshape and recognize your beliefs about aging in real-time. When you encounter a situation that portrays aging in a negative way, recognize that the real problem is often ageism, and not aging itself.

C - Challenge Age Beliefs

When you see negative beliefs or ageism, call them out right away. It is also important to reinforce positive age beliefs when they occur. Remember that age is a number, and people of every age have valuable and important things to offer.


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