Area Agency on Aging: Education could promote better attitudes toward aging

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By Kay Kaylor
PREVIEW Columnist

I advocate for residents in extended care and assisted living residences as the region’s lead long-term care ombudsman. I also am a Senior Medicare Patrol and State Health Insurance Assistance Program counselor, all as an employee of San Juan Basin Area Agency on Aging (SJBAAA). The many aging and care concerns will be addressed here.

Journalists cited in Generations SmartBrief, a collection of articles the American Society on Aging sends in emails, lately have stated it is time to end the use of “elderly.” In one case, “elders” is suggested as a more respectful alternative. Other articles address ageism, stereotyping and discriminating against people due to their age, in the workplace and in North American cultural attitudes.

“Changing Attitudes Key to Addressing Ageism,” an article SmartBrief took from the Independent Record of Helena, Mont., is part of the Graying Pains series, a project of Montana Fourth Estate. The author, Kathi Beeks of the Valley Journal (Aug. 14, Ronan, Mont.), writes, “Lengthening lifespans require a more informed and positive approach to aging, both for individuals and society.”

Depictions of elders in the media, in the English language, and in marketing reinforce negative stereotypes about the aging process and cultural fears of aging and do not represent the actual experience, Beeks notes. For example, 95 percent of people over age 65 do not live in nursing homes and instead live in the community, although millions are “struggling to meet their monthly expenses,” according to the National Institute on Aging. Beeks cites several sources in the article, including a study that found children begin to learn age bias at age 2, and this affects their attitudes about themselves as they age. 

Instead, educating young students about the positive aspects of aging can create a more balanced understanding of life and influence how well people age. The trend of promoting intergenerational activities, such as tutoring or in housing, allow children to experience positive interactions with older adults.

Think of older politicians, Supreme Court justices, athletes and CEOs of corporations, as well as other ways people actively age — the examples can be found everywhere.

SJBAAA offers resources for people age 60 and older or on Medicare. For further information, please call or text 403-2165 or send an email to leadombudsman@sjbaaa.org.