We can tell the story to be sure that we’re not just telling any story. We’re telling this effective narrative that can move the needle in how people think about aging.
– Patricia D’Antonio, BSPharm, MS, MBA, BCGP

Words are powerful. They influence how we think, behave and approach things. They can produce labels, misunderstandings, misrepresentations and change our perceptions in profound and meaningful ways.

In this episode of This Is Getting Old: Moving Towards an Age-Friendly World showcases GSA’s work on Reframing Aging. Tune in as our guest —Patricia D’Antonio, BSPharm, MS, MBA, BCGP—offers us ways to reframe our language when talking about and thinking about aging.

Part One of ‘Aging: Words Matter Part 1’

What Is The Reframing Aging Initiative?

Reframing Aging is a social change endeavor designed to improve the public’s understanding of aging. The GSA’s ongoing effort is fostering a new language in talking about getting older that leads to more substantial support for age-friendly services and policies. This initiative, in turn, plays a critical role in ensuring that the public recognizes that there is much we can do collectively to ensure well-being as we age by following the concepts of Reframing Aging.

Reframing Aging is an evidence-based communications strategy led by 10 National Aging Organizations – American Federation on Aging, the American Society on Aging, the American Geriatrics Society, and Grantmakers in Aging.

Ageism is often not recognized. Ageism intersects with all of the -isms and impacts all of us; no matter how old we are. What we’ve learned in our research is there are challenges in how the public thinks around aging. Some of that comes around the following:

●   Cultural Models That Drive People’s Thinking

Cultural models are patterns of thinking or assumptions created through years of experience.

People rely on cultural models to interpret, organize and make meaning out of all sorts of stimuli, including experiences, feelings, thoughts, and communications.

●   Impact of Ideal vs. Perceived Real Views Of Aging

Ideal views of aging is that older adults accumulated wisdom, are self-sufficient, are staying active, and earned the leisure perceived.

Whereas the “Real” views of aging are deterioration, loss of control, and dependency.

We can see challenges here when many people see aging as getting older means more health issues, which means more doctor’s visits and medications than, one of the advantages of getting older is you get to relax more.

Self-ageism is either delaying care or not allowing you to get the care you need because of self-imposed ageism.
– Melissa Batchelor, PhD, RN, FNP-BC, FGSA, FAAN

●   Impact of individualism

An excellent example of individualism is when somebody says something like, “If you exercise and eat right, you’ll age well.” Except we need to think about the systems around us that make sure that we have that opportunity to eat well and exercise. Then just saying if you only eat well doesn’t get you to that systemic solution that we need to create.

Another place where that’s important to think about is when people talk about financial planning. So when you’re retiring, if you only just put money away every month, you would have money for when you retire.

Well, if I am in a system where I’m working three jobs to make ends meet, I may not be in the position right now to be able to save for retirement. It doesn’t absolve people from having to take some action. So we need to ensure that there are policies in place that support all of us as we age.

●   Impact of “Us” vs. “Them” Dichotomy Thinking about Aging

When we start to tell stories that create that “us” versus “them,” it does put people and make people think that we are two different models in our brains. When we start to think about this, it impedes how we think about support for aging in any way.

There’s this dichotomy of everybody on a cruise, that life of leisure or somebody jumping out of the air, out of an airplane, or everybody is very sick and decrepit.  They need help, they’re frail, they need help with whatever is going to happen. Those kinds of pictures don’t help us gain support and understand what aging means and how we all contribute to society even as we age.

Impact of Fatalism

Fatalism is the culture that makes people think, “If this is a tsunami, I’m going to run someplace. I’m getting out of here.”

We learn in those fatalistic crises kind of messages, which when you work in policy, you have to make it a crisis so that anybody will take action.

But honestly, what we learned through the research is people say, “There’s no solution here, so I’m going to go someplace else”. So when we talk about this tsunami, as much as it does make people look at it differently, let’s go someplace else where we can make a difference.

But there are things we can do to collectively age well. There are solutions. We can solve problems; we have a collective responsibility to create policies that benefit all generations; and recognizing what is around us shapes us – social determinants of health matter – from age-friendly cities with adequate transportation, housing, and other age-friendly domains.

Part Two of ‘Aging: Words Matter Part 1.’

Why Reframe Aging?

●   Ageism Harms Us All

Ageism is discrimination against a person based on age, and it shapes the way we think about ourselves and others as we age.

Many people don’t realize how ageism impacts our health. One area where we have seen is that one in every seven dollars spent in health care, which roughly equates to sixty-three billion dollars a year, is paid due to ageism.

●   Experts Vs. Impressions Of The Public Related To Aging

Public perceptions about older adults are incomplete and unrealistic. We see issues where people have their own biases—our own internalized biases about aging. We might hear people say, “Oh, I have this pain in my back. It must be because I’m getting old.”

I believe that you have a pain in your back. I think that you are getting older. You are aging, but I don’t think that the sole reason that you have this pain in your back is that you’re old. So you must get to your health care professional and get it checked out.

●   Ageism Is Not Considered A Problem

We hold implicit, subconscious biases as well as external and internal biases. Most people don’t recognize ageism as a problem at all. It’s the only “ism” that’s socially accepted, and it’s self-imposed of all of the “isms,” and it’s the only one that we’re all doing together.

Broader Public Pushes Aging Away Vs. Experts Who See Aging As A Possibility.

People don’t think about ageism because we don’t think aging is just part of us. So, where experts might think that aging is something we embrace, the public tends to push aging away.

Interestingly, during interviews with people, you see people in the interview asking them questions about aging; you notice the push away. So it’s not just the verbal cues; it’s the non-verbal cues as well about aging that we need to think about.

When you don’t know what to do, you tend to do nothing, so nothing changes. Aging is not all pessimistic; there are a lot of opportunities. – Melissa Batchelor, PhD, RN, FNP-BC, FGSA, FAAN

But It’s Not All Pessimistic.

The public has three significant patterns of thinking, which may be a bit more recessive cognitive patterns but we’ll learn to activate our communications when we understand them.

We Have Some Opportunities As Well:

1. Problems Can Be Solved.

We all believe that the problems can be solved and that comes out in a value of ingenuity. It comes out in the way that we build momentum. In the United States, we put people on the moon —so we can solve problems.

2. Collective Responsibility

In society, we have a collective responsibility for all. We see schools now where we have older people involved in pre-K and kindergarten programs. People of all ages are attending universities.

We see age-friendly movements. One of them is around university recognizing that you have an opportunity for a second, third career. That intergenerational opportunity of people interacting— that experience and knowledge that can be transferred is so important

3. What Surrounds Us Shapes Us

What’s in our community helps us to recognize that we’re all responsible for all of ourselves as we age. In talking about the social determinants of health, we think about do we have transportation? Do we have access to grocery stores? So those are the positive pieces that we want to cue.

About Patricia D’Antonio, BSPharm, MS, MBA, BCGP:

Patricia M. “Trish” D’Antonio, BSPharm, MS, MBA, BCGP, is GSA’s vice president of professional policy affairs. In this role, she is responsible for managing the Society’s relationships with other organizations in the aging arena, leading major Society programs and projects, and developing a strategy for future growth of the National Academy on an Aging Society (GSA’s nonpartisan public policy institute).

She is also the project director for the Reframing Aging Initiative, a long-term social change endeavor designed to improve the public’s understanding of what aging means and the many ways that older people contribute to our society.

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About Melissa:

Melissa Batchelor, PhD, RN, FNP, FGSA, FAAN. I am a nurse, nurse practitioner, nurse educator and nurse researcher with over 25 years of experience in the aging and long-term care healthcare space. You can visit my website at MelissaBPhD.com to learn more about me, how you can work with me directly,
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