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Ageism awareness: Changing negative stereotypes

Alicia Colombo

By Najja R. Orr, MBA, DBA, PCA President & CEO

Ageism – how we think, feel and act – toward others based upon age is often fraught with prejudice or discrimination toward older people. The World Health Organization has deemed ageism as one of the most widespread and socially accepted forms of prejudice. Our society often portrays young people as active, vibrant and intelligent while older people are often shown as slow, forgetful and weak.

This negative way of thinking is not just wrong, it’s extremely hurtful with far-reaching effects on us all:

  • AARP estimates that $850 billion (about $2,600 per person) is lost to the U.S. Gross Domestic Product annually due to involuntary retirement, underemployment and unemployment among older workers.
  • A study published in The Gerontologist estimates that $63 billion in unnecessary health care costs are due to ageism each year.
  • Researchers at Yale University concluded that ageism negatively affects health and longevity. Older adults who are more optimistic in general and who have a positive view of their own aging live more than 7 years longer than older adults who think negatively about their own aging.

Throughout my career in the aging network and my time at PCA, I have personally met a countless number of older adults who are leading healthy, vibrant and active lives well into their 80s, 90s and even 100s. This proves that ageist stereotypes are obsolete and need to be reframed correctly.

Throughout PCA’s 50-year history, we have proven that many older Philadelphians just need a little help to maintain their independence and to support healthy aging. By providing the right services, resources and assistance when needed, older people can live happy, healthy and productive lives.

Let’s all do our part to dismantle ageism every day. Take note of your words, actions and judgements of older people –and of yourself. I caution you to think about the connotations or implications of your words when describing older people. Instead of saying that someone is having a “senior moment” or that people should not be in certain roles due to their age, focus on a person’s capacity and the richness of life, which often includes volunteering and employment.

If you step into any of the 28 PCA-supported senior community centers throughout Philadelphia, you will see active and engaged older adults involved in a flurry of activities – exercising, socializing, learning, playing, enjoying a communal meal and more!

It’s time to change our perceptions and language about age to reflect the great diversity, wisdom and contributions of older adults.

Categories: Advocacy Milestones eNews


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