How we think about aging impacts how quickly we
recover from disease or an accident. If we have self-imposed ageist beliefs, it can shorten our lifespan by seven years.
– Melissa Batchelor, PhD, RN, FNP-BC, FGSA, FAAN
Self-imposed ageism is real. I’d be interested in your thoughts about this quote – drop a comment below.
In the words of Maggie Kuhn founder Gray Panthers, “The first myth is that old age is a disease, a terrible disease that you never admit you’ve got, so you lie about your age. Well, it’s not a disease—it’s a triumph because you’ve survived. Failure, disappointment, sickness, loss—you’re still here.”
While I know Maggie Kuhn did great work founding the Gray Panthers and was actually a early advocate for not forcing people to retire at age 65 – and had an age-inclusive focus and advocated for college students to be taken more seriously – the thought of equating aging to mere survival of failure, disappointment, sickness and loss to only reflect one side of the coin of aging. Where is the celebration of major life milestones, her achievements, her “wins” in the third-third of her life?
It’s one quote, from one moment in time, so I digress…but I hope this makes you think about how you think, and and how WE talk, about aging in 2021.
Today’s episode picks up with how we should be telling the story of aging? We’ll talk more about Reframing Aging to continue the 2-part series of Aging: Words Matter at This Is Getting Old: Moving Toward An Age-Friendly World.
Tune in as Patricia D’Antonio, BSPharm, MS, MBA, BCGP, further elucidates why words matter, particularly regarding how they may generate and promote discrimination, fear, and misconception around aging.
Part One Of ‘Aging: Words Matter Part 2.’
The Leaders of Aging Organizations collaborated with the FrameWorks Institute, which studied and reflected on the gap between popular views and misconceptions about aging.
They discussed ways to move to more positive narratives that “progress a perspective of older age as a time of challenges and possibilities, counteracting the fatalistic notion that aging outcomes couldn’t be even better.”
How Should We Be Telling The Story Of Aging?
We all take cognitive shortcuts to interpret and understand all sorts of experiences, thoughts, and feelings about aging. We take these for granted, and they are primarily automatic assumptions. However, remember that a compelling narrative builds understanding, shifts attitudes, and generates support for policy solutions.
● Framing Is About Choices
Frames are choices about how information is presented, what to emphasize, how to explain it, and what to leave unsaid.
When a Frame “works,” it shifts thinking in multiple ways— knowledge increases, attitudes improve, and policy support grows.
Our goal with this project is to be able to get
policies that support us as we age.
– Patricia D’Antonio, BSPharm, MS, MBA, BCGP
What Should We Do?
- In our communications, we can make choices that activate productive cues/shortcuts to advance helpful models about aging.
- It’s Important to tell the positive story of aging, but not just any story.
We can get people to talk about aging and change the discourse on what people think about it. As we start to do that, ultimately, our goal t is to be able to get policies that support us as we age so we can get that discussion going and get people to start to think about aging differently.
Consider the following for a compelling narrative:
- Why does this narrative matter?
- Include tested values that we know move the needle on thinking about aging
- How does this narrative work?
- What can we do about it?
- Offer concrete systemic solutions.
- Incorporate the values of Justice and Ingenuity
Justice – Highlight that our society should treat older people as equals and ensure meaningful opportunities to contribute.
Ingenuity – Provide encouragements and positive reinforcements like saying, “We are resourceful and can find new and creative solutions for the challenges that come as we age.”
- Equating aging with decline
- Cuing individualism
- Portraying older people as other
- Describing the aging of the population as a crisis
- Talking about resources as fixed or finite
✔️ That context and environment shape decisions and outcomes
✔️ The value of ingenuity
✔️ Inclusion and the use of “we.”
✔️ An explanation that underlying social conditions influence health, financial security, employment
✔️ Systemic solutions
Part Two of ‘Aging: Words Matter Part 2.’
Research Findings: Word Choice Matters!
- Words like “seniors” and “the elderly” drive thinking that we are less competent as we age. These terms are “othering” rather than being inclusive. Using words like “older adult” or “older people” – but realize that in using these terms, an 18 year old may think about people in their 50’s.
- References to “older adults” generally call to mind someone in their mid-fifties, which doesn’t quite get us as advocates to the age range we want to address.
- “Older people” evokes people aged 60 or older and at the same time brings with it the most positive, least paternalistic view of the age described in the public mind.
So experts need to communicate with the public to make sure that the thinking for Americans is positive about aging because it can shorten your lifespan, and you end up with more health problems because of it.
Impact Of Reframing Aging With AP/ AMA/ APA Style Guides
- Adopting the concepts of Reframing Aging will improve how we hear, read about aging in a way that again cues the more productive thinking about aging.
- The American Medical Association (AMA), the American Psychological Association (APA), and even the Associated Press (AP) have updated their style manuals to adopt language around aging. So instead of using the word “seniors” and “elderly,” they refer to older people or be specific about the age group.
The first step in fixing ageism is to raise awareness.
– Melissa Batchelor, PhD, RN, FNP-BC, FGSA, FAAN
Role Of Implicit Bias Around Aging
● Defining Ageism and Implicit Bias?
Ageism is the discrimination of any person of any age—the tendency to regard older people as debilitating. We have some subconscious thoughts about that. It starts when we’re very young about taking in information about aging and older people.
Consequently, it becomes thoughts and feelings that you have that you don’t even realize. Such thoughts and feelings are implicit biases. We have an implicit bias about many things, but it’s the internalized bias tied to how we want to process so much information.
● Implicit Biases Can Be Harmful
Implicit biases can be harmful and challenging for all of us to think about that. Some of the things that we work on are we help people develop “well-framed messages.” We ask people what they think about aging. They give us their answers which are more around those negative models that we talk about—us versus them, the fatalism, the individualism. We read them well-framed sentences about aging, and a couple of minutes later, we see the difference in how the same people respond.
Conclusively, our research shows that communicating a positive understanding of the aging process mitigates sources of implicit bias.
Join the cause of Moving Towards an Age-Friendly World
by checking on the following helpful resources:
Call out ageism when you see it or hear it – Words Matter
Practice using the tips on the Quick Start Guide Learn (Getting Started)about the Swamp of Public Opinion on Aging and other research on the Reframing Aging Initiative webpage (www.reframingaging.org)
Request a workshop or presentation for your organization
Associated Press (AP), American Medical Association (AMA) and the American Psychological Association (APA) Style Guide recommendations
How to access training
Subscribe to the Caravan newsletter
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.