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Aging’s Big PR Problem

 

This guest post is by Jeanette Leardi, a Portland, Oregon, writer, editor, and community educator who is changing perceptions about the aging process and helping people appreciate elders’ inherent dignity, wisdom, and unique value as mentors and catalysts for social change. You can read more of her blog posts at ChangingAging, where this post first appeared, and reach her through her website.

 

Years ago, I attended a New York University course on health-care public relations. It was shortly after the time of the big Tylenol incident. Perhaps you remember the event. In 1982, seven people in the Chicago area died from cyanide poisoning as a result of tampered Tylenol Extra-Strength capsules. While parent company Johnson & Johnson had nothing to do with this criminal act, which occurred post-shipment, it took full responsibility to remedy the situation. Because its priority was to save the lives of its consumers before saving the life of its product, it 1) immediately recalled and eventually ceased production of all Tylenol capsules, 2) created new tamper-resistant caplets and packaging, 3) offered consumer discounts on Tylenol products, and 4) educated the medical community about its public-safety efforts in order to restore trust in the company. In public relations courses everywhere, the Johnson & Johnson response was hailed as the gold standard in crisis management: name the problem, tell the truth about it, and work quickly and diligently to solve it.

In some ways, the concept of aging has had major PR problems of its own for a very long time. It’s gotten a horrible reputation as a process of inevitable and irrevocable decline. Widespread ignorance about the physiology of aging has led to culturally accepted negative stereotypes that not only are false but engender fear. And with increased talk about “silver tsunamis” and endangered entitlements such as Social Security and Medicare, it’s accurate to say that the PR problem is now slouching toward the level of PR crisis.

There is nothing wrong with people getting older. The process is a natural part of life. Just as we don’t consider childhood, adolescence, and adulthood as lifespan aberrations that must be halted or corrected, neither should we feel the same way about elderhood. Each life stage has its problems and challenges, but it also has its benefits and rewards. That’s why it’s important to identify the huge PR predicament we face concerning aging. It is up to all of us to name the real social problem (ageism) tell the truth about it (it’s human-made and preventable), and work hard to solve it as soon as possible.

All of us have a stake in handling this problem, but none more so than the professionals who work in aging services –– businesses, educational institutions, government departments, and nonprofit organizations whose mission is to serve the needs and aspirations of older adults.

Ironically, many people in this field manage to contribute more to worsening the PR problem than to solving it. They do so unintentionally by continuing to define elders as a basically needy (in decline) population and emphasizing individual responsibility as the sole requirement for aging successfully. By not giving equal time and energy in the course of their work to raising awareness of older adults’ capacity to be economically and socially productive and of the social factors that limit this capacity, these professionals undercut their efforts to improve the lives of the people they serve.

When it comes to aging’s PR problem, we need to adopt our own gold standard of crisis-management response. We should 1) immediately challenge ageist views and work to remove them from public discourse, 2) replace those views with tamper-resistant perspectives of aging that are based on science rather than on fear, 3) offer meaningful opportunities for elders to engage with their community in more comprehensive ways, and 4) educate all generations about the challenges and benefits of the aging process at every stage of life.    

Today, people have no reservations about taking Tylenol. Who knows? If we can lick our ageism-based PR problem, perhaps someday soon we might be able to say the same thing about growing older.

 

 

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Introducing the ninth video on my YouTube channel

 Clip #9: Become an Old Person in Training.

No one wants to die young. Everyone is aging. Yet most people don’t want to talk about it, or even acknowledge it to themselves. It’s almost a taboo. 

As time goes by it gets harder to sustain the illusion that we’ll never grow old, yet many of us respond by digging deeper into denial. Given the way American society treats older people, it’s understandable. But this strategy serves us poorly in the long run (and not very well in our middle years either). Over time, a punitive psychological bind tightens its grip. It’s no fun to go through life dreading our futures. It’s not healthy. And it’s not necessary.

What’s the solution? Become an Old Person in Training. Step off the treadmill of age denial. Take a deep breath. Extend a hand to the future self you’ve been stiff-arming all these years. Or just wave. Acknowledge that you will age—that you are aging—at whatever remove works for you. (It’s really a mental trick.)

Becoming an Old Person in Training acknowledges the inevitability of growing old while still relegating it to the future. It swaps purpose and intent for dread and denial. It connects us empathically with our future selves.

Becoming an Old Person in Training makes tactical sense. Preparing for longer lives means working longer and saving more. Making friends of all ages and hanging onto them. Using our brains and getting off our butts.

Becoming an Old Person in Training is an act of imagination, too, because thinking way ahead doesn’t come naturally: as a species we’re engineered to live in the present. We need to envision what we’ll want to be doing and be capable of when we hit eighty and niney, and embark on ways of thinking and acting that will get us there.

Becoming an Old Person in Training is also a political act. It helps us to think critically about what age means in this society, and the forces at work behind depictions of older people as useless and pathetic. Shame can damage self-esteem and quality of life as much as externally imposed stereotyping.Identifying with olders undoes the “otherness” that powers ageism (and racism, and nationalism…). It makes room for empathy, and action. 

Some people are born Old People in Training. The rest of us have to make our way to this healthier, more optimistic, more realistic way of being in the world. The sooner we make the leap, the better off we’ll be, as individuals and as a society.

Watch the video. If you like what you see, please subscribe

 

 

 

 

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Want to hold dementia at bay? Check your age bias.

Every few weeks there seems to be a new story about how attitudes towards aging affect the way older minds and bodies function. Better attitude, better health.  The latest was an irresistibly titled one in the Los Angeles Times: “Karma bites back: Hating on the elderly may put you at risk of Alzheimer’s.” 

 

Bile probably keeps a lot of people going—it’s having a purpose, more than anything else, that seems to forestall cognitive decline—but this latest study is impressive. Led by the National Institutes of Health’s chief scientist on brain aging, researchers used both MRI scans and autopsies to study the brains of participants in the blue-chip Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging. The scans showed that people with the most negative perceptions of aging showed a key sign of dementia: dramatically greater shrinkage of the hippocampus, which is critical to maintaining memory. The brain autopsies revealed that two other indicators of Alzheimer’s disease—amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles—were far more common in key regions of the brains of those who equated aging with debility and decline. 

 

“By both measures, the brains … looked strikingly different,” observed health and science reporter Melissa Healey. “The results held even after researchers took account of age, sex and a range of factors that can affect brain health. And the fact that the observations held for two different means of measuring brain structure—over time and after death—clearly suggests that attitudes about aging influence brain structure, and not that people with as-yet-undiagnosed Alzheimer’s are simply more negative about aging.”

 

What underlies these pathological changes? “We believe it is the stress generated by the negative beliefs about aging that individuals sometimes internalize from society,” said Becca Levy of the Yale School of Public Health, who was also involved in the study and has conducted fascinating research in this arena. 

 

How do you feel about growing older? Where do your beliefs come from? Are they based on facts or on fears and hearsay? Find out, by nosing around on this blog, watching a little video, and picking up on age bias in the culture around us.  It’s no more acceptable than sexism or racism or homophobia. It fills us with needless dread. And it actually makes us sick. Live longer, live better, and speak out against ageism.

 

 

 

 

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Introducing the eighth video on my YouTube channel

Clip #8: There’s no such thing as “age-appropriate.”

Where does the message that we’re “too old” for something—be it a task, a relationship, or a haircut—originate? Usually between our ears, because we’ve internalized a lifetime of messages that older people are undesirable or incompetent or unwelcome, and should shuffle to the sidelines. Preferably without making a fuss.  

Those messages are ageist stereotypes. Stereotyping lies at the heart of all “isms”: the assumption that all members of a group are the same. It’s why people think everyone in a retirement home is the same age—”old”—even though residents can range from people in their fifties to centenarians. (Can you imagine thinking the same way about a group of 20- to 60-year-olds?) All stereotyping is wrong, but especially when it comes to age, because the older we get the more different from one another we become. As doctors put it, “If you’ve seen one eighty-year-old, you’ve seen one eighty-year-old.” 

That’s why there’s no such thing as “acting your age.” The longer we live, the less our chronological age says about what we’re capable of or interested in. It’s never a good idea to do or wear something because you think it’ll make you “look young.” It’s totally fine to give ear-splitting music a pass or put backpacking or high heels behind you—If that’s your choice. But if the prospect genuinely appeals, and if you’re only staying home because you might be the oldest person to partake, think again. If you’re a foodie, who cares if you’ll be the only gray head in the room at that trendy new restaurant? If you love to dance, who cares if you’re the oldest person on the floor? It shouldn’t matter to you, nor to anyone else. 

 That’s how desegregation happens. People with the most at stake—olders, in this case—step up and step out. They stop conforming. The open-minded welcome them, and incremental social change takes place. The point is not to act artificially, but to test ourselves a bit, by challenging the status quo, keeping our worlds from shrinking, and doing our part to integrate them. The task is to figure out what’s us-appropriate at any point, not necessarily what biology predicts or an ageist culture ordains. Because there’s no such thing as age-appropriate.

Watch the video. If you like what you see, please subscribe

 

 

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Want to come out and PLAY?

I like to talk about becoming an Old Person in Training as way to move beyond denial, overcome internalized ageism, and connect to our future selves. At the BOOM conference in Denver in October, it was wonderful to come across a kindred spirit, aging-focused psychotherapist Kyrie Sue Carpenter, and her very different scenario for achieving the very same goals.

 In a presentation called Embracing Aging, Kyrie described some of the attributes that America prizes: a fast pace (we eat in our cars; goods and services are just a click away); doing over being (social media relentlessly chronicles our accomplishments); youthfulness (there’s a rush to get 19, and then we’re supposed to continue to look and act that age until we’re 90); and hypercognition (the better your score on standardized tests, the better you are).

As Kyrie pointed out, these priorities serve us poorly, especially as we age. When we cling to youth, we forfeit opportunities to develop and grow. We’re hostage to what geriatrician Bill Thomas calls “the tyranny of still”: the delusion that as long as we’re still working, still dating, still running up the stairs, we can stop the clock—as if that that would be a good thing. That way of thinking underlies a friend’s Cool Hair Theory:  that dated hairstyles (e.g. 1984, mullet, no question) reflect the period when people felt the best about themselves, and they and their hair stay trapped there. The wishful notion that “If I can just look like I’m 19, I’ll be 19” is a bad fashion move, and a delusion.

 “Being anti-aging doesn’t make sense,” said Kyrie. “A lot of the suffering comes from fighting aging.” Fear puts olders at increased risk for suicide, with feelings of alienation or worthlessness reinforced by the ageist stereotype that being old means being sick, frail, and sad. As she wrote in her dissertation, age denial “only aids people in becoming what they fear in old age: rigid, selfish, and obsolete.”

 The reality is that aging is inevitable but worthy of embrace, and that fear of aging is preventable. (As I put it, fear of dying is human while fear of aging is cultural—and culture can change.) In an ageist culture, Kyrie’s ask was simple yet radical: “It is necessary to redefine aging, including senility, as natural versus pathological.” Redefine it and we can embrace changes with curiosity and an open mind, continue to develop as humans, and be open to what aging has to teach. As a tool, Kyrie proposed an alternative set of values that reflect what we learn as we age: a fluid, rhythmic pace (vs. speed for its own sake), community as the basis for life story (vs. a record of accomplishments), a shifting physical appearance and ability (vs. a youthful aesthetic and prowess ideal), and alternative ways of knowing (vs. hyper-cognition). The initials conformed to the acronym and handy mnemonic PLAY: a framework and attitude to help us embrace aging at any age, accept that there’s no right path, and start practicing—the sooner the better. In other words, become an Old Person in Training.

I know, PLAY sounds like more fun. Here’s how Kyrie’s acronym breaks down:

  • Pacing – knowing the right pace for a given moment or a given task alleviates suffering. Becoming more sensitive to that pace and to the flow of life makes it easer to adapt to the gradual slowing that occurs in late life.
  • Life story – Aging teaches the value of the intangibles in a life story, including the importance of community and the worth of a given moment. Relationships and community rise to the top, especially for people with dementia, which, Kyrie wryly noted, “is particularly good at rearranging a person’s life story. A sense of who we are is more than what we remember at the moment, or what we’ve done or once were.” She’s worked extensively with dementia patients, and described a woman who was more comfortable among people who were familiar, even if she couldn’t place them. “She would say, ‘I can’t remember you here’—tapping her head—‘but I remember you here’—pressing her hands to her heart. Every moment you spend with someone is a piece of you for them to hold when you are gone,” Kyrie added.
  • Aesthetics – It’s OK for art to be “useless,” Kyrie pointed out, so why we don’t cut ourselves the same slack, and acknowledge that it’s just fine not to look a certain way. Why do we think wrinkles are ugly? What if this shifting was accepted without judgment, if we focused instead on the gestalt of a person?
  • Your perspective – a reminder to value ways of knowing based on emotion, sensation and relationship in addition to reason, and to be curious instead of searching for a single superlative truth. There are many different perspectives, and countless ways to acquire them.

PLAY won’t make aging easy, Kyrie acknowledged. But as she has written about dementia, “Just because something is difficult does not mean that it needs to be cured.” Cultivate these values and aging will be less difficult, more appreciated, and more fun. The central challenge again: to redefine aging, including senility, as natural versus pathological. Kyrie frames this primarily in Jungian terms of personal growth. My framework is more political: reject the 20th century’s medicalization, problematization, and commodification of aging.  Our goal is the same, and she describes it beautifully: “to create a culture that holds the aging process, rather than rejects it, and may again craft rites and rituals to embrace every stage of life as beautiful and unique and purposeful.”

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Introducing the seventh video on my YouTube channel

 

Clip #7: Age discrimination cuts work lives short.

There’s plenty of buzz about diversity in the workplace, and that’s a good thing. Research shows that being around people who are different from us makes us more diligent and harder-working, not to mention more open-minded. Diverse teams make better decisions because they draw on more data and more points of view. 

So why does the blindingly obvious point that age should be a criterion for diversity—alongside race, gender, ability, and sexual orientation—take people by surprise?

Because it simply hasn’t occurred to them. Most people acknowledge that discrimination makes life harder for women and minorities, which is why sexism and racism and homophobia no longer get a pass. But most people also have yet to think about how culture also shapes the experience of growing older. And this culture’s obsession with youth makes aging in America a whole lot harder than it has to be. 

This plays out punishingly in the workplace. Not one of the negative stereotypes that older workers confront—that they’re less motivated, less productive, less dependable, less teachable or less creative, to name only a few—holds up under scrutiny. In many jobs, in fact, performance improves with age. Yet age discrimination is steeply on the rise. 

How are older Americans supposed to remain self-sufficient if they’re forced out of the job market? Many took a hit during the Great Recession, and only around 50 percent have saved enough to meet basic retirement needs into their eighties and nineties. Once they’re laid off, many never regain their former standard of living, and they also forego the many ways in which meaningful employment contributes to physical and mental well-being. 

How about adapting the Rooney Rule, which dates back to 2003, when Pittsburgh Steelers chairman Dan Rooney mandated that every team with a head coach opening had to interview at least one minority candidate for the job. How about insisting that every job search include not just women and minority candidates, but people over 50?

Age discrimination isn’t legal: workers over age 40 are entitled to fair treatment in hiring and employment practices. It’s not ethical either: the right to work as long as we are able is a human right. Ending age discrimination is part of making the workforce more equitable for everyone—not just because every one of us is aging. 

Watch the video. If you like what you see, please subscribe

 

 

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honored to be on a list of the world’s 100 most inspiring women

Salt magazine has selected 100 female change agents – “visionary women who are shattering the glass ceiling, changing innumerable lives for the better, and having a positive influence all around the world.” It’s an astonishing list, including such luminatries as Aung San Suu Kyi, Amma, Jane Goodall, Angelina Jolie, Naomi Klein, Elizabeth Warren and Pussy Riot, and I’m honored to be on it.

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Introducing the sixth video on my YouTube channel

 #6: Attitudes towards aging affect our health.

Do you want to grow old? Most people answer yes. A qualified yes, that is: “As long as I’ve got my health.” Long life looks attractive when it’s uncoupled from cognitive and physical decline. It’s a lot cheaper too: illness is expensive.

What shapes our health as we age?  Genetics and behavior, of course, although genes account for only about 30% of the picture. Another important, and undervalued, factor is attitude. The beliefs we’ve assimilated about the nature and value of old age—how ageist we are, in other words—make a real difference. A growing body of evidence shows that these attitudes have an actual, measurable, physical effect on how we age

Anti-aging prejudices are drummed into Americans from early childhood on. Older people in children’s books are wicked or weird. Advertisements advise us that beauty means looking like a teenager. Television depicts olders as grouches or simpletons. Kids absorb these messages without even realizing it, because the messages aren’t aimed at them. This lays the groundwork for thinking of “oldness” as inferior to youth, and thinking of older people as “other” than themselves. That’s how prejudice gets a foothold.

Over a lifetime, these beliefs and opinions become fixed. Steps slow and confidence wanes, simply because a subliminal script says it’s time to totter. We seldom challenge that script, even when experience tells a different story and often before actual decline sets in. We blame every ache or memory lapse on aging, instead of acknowledging that we forgot stuff in high school too, or that our other knee is doing fine even though it’s gone just as many miles. 

Cultural expectations have a powerful effect. It’s the same reason 15-year-old girls excel on science tests in countries where girls aren’t “supposed” to be bad at math.  People with more positive feelings about aging do better on memory tests and are more confident. They can walk faster and are more likely to recover fully from severe disability. They actually live longer—an average of seven and a half years—and they also live better. They’re able to contribute more to society, and they cost less. 

We need a lot more research into the biology of aging and into genuine diseases of late life, like arthritis and Parkinson’s. Many other conditions, like diabetes and high blood pressure, get their start in midlife, or even in childhood. People with positive views of what it means to grow old take better care of themselves all the way along. 

We also need to distinguish between problems of biology (disease) from problems created by the society that we live in. Abundant research shows that people are happiest at the beginning and the ends of their lives—the U-shaped happiness curve—even in cultures that disrespect and discriminate against older people, like the US. Suppose we rewrote the script that equates aging with decline? Silenced it entirely? Re-envisioned late life as a time not just of loss but also as a time of growth and purpose? People would find their way to that happiness a lot earlier. They’d miss out on a lot of unnecessary dread. It would enrich the rest of their lives—and society as a whole.

How about a national campaign to raise awareness of ageism and the damage it does? Imagine the benefits of overturning ageist stereotypes before they distort our sense of self and shorten our steps. Imagine how much a powerful counter-narrative would do to increase not just lifespan but “healthspan.”

 

Watch the video. If you like what you see, please subscribe

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now blogging for HuffPost50

In October, pioneering tech writer Steven Levy asked me to comment on a conversation on Medium on age diversity—the lack thereof and what to do about it, that is—in technology companies. My response, Of Course Companies Should Strive for Age Diversity, Even in Field as Innovation-Crazy as Tech, came to the attention of an editor at HuffingtonPost50, who invited me to join their roster. Levy’s summary of the conversation and the follow-up comments are well worth reading.  The orginal post is below, if you don’t feel like chasing the links. 

 

Of course companies should strive for age diversity, “even in a field as innovation-crazy as tech.” Make that especially in a field as innovation-crazy as tech. Companies aren’t adaptable and creative because their employees are young. They’re adaptable and creative despite it. Mixed-age teams are highly productive in areas that require creative thinking. Take it from Scientific American: “the findings are clear: for groups that value innovation and new ideas, diversity helps.” 

Research on diversity in general shows that being around people who are different from us also makes us more diligent and harder-working, not to mention more open-minded. Diverse teams make better decisions because they draw on more data and more perspectives. So how on earth did experience become a dirty word? Why does the blindingly obvious point that age should be a criterion for diversity—alongside race, gender, ability, and sexual orientation—take people by surprise?

Because it simply hasn’t occurred to them. Just like it hasn’t occurred to those Federal bean counters who don’t collect age data. Age discrimination isn’t good for companies and it’s not good for people, but it’s not on the map yet. Sexism and racism and homophobia no longer get a pass because most people acknowledge that discrimination makes life harder for women and minorities. But most of them have yet to think about how culture also shapes the experience of growing older. And this culture’s obsession with the young and new and fast and shiny makes aging in America a whole lot harder than it has to be. 

As you describe, Silicon Valley epitomizes and valorizes youth culture. Tech workers attempt to “pass” for younger for the same reasons that people of color sometimes passed for white: to attain or retain privilege, and to escape prejudice. It’s illegal to ask for a job applicant’s age, but employers routinely advertise for “digital natives,” which Wikipedia defines as people born after 1980. (In Silicon Valley, “old”= no-longer-young; tech years are like dog years.) The practice is elitist and ageist because it assumes that digital immigrants—i.e. older people—couldn’t possibly be comfortable with new technology, which is manifestly untrue. 

Other ageist stereotypes abound: that older workers are less productive, less dependable, less committed, less teachable, and less creative, to name only a few. Not one holds up under scrutiny. In fact older employees typically trounce their younger colleagues on every measure of job performance, according to Peter Cappelli, Wharton professor and co-author of Managing the Older Worker. “I thought the picture might be more mixed, but it isn’t. The juxtaposition between the superior performance of older workers and the discrimination against them in the workplace just really makes no sense.” Yet, because employers are ignorant and ageist, lawsuits are on the rise. 

Diversity became a buzzword because society grew less tolerant of racism and sexism and homophobia. Progressive companies realized they had to walk the walk. (A friend in workforce policy calls this the “shoe test:” look under the table, and if everyone’s wearing the same kind of shoes, whether wing-tips or flipflops, you’ve got a problem.) We want different faces at the table and different shoes under it because we don’t think access to opportunity should depend on what someone looks like. Graying hair and wrinkles count. Even starter wrinkles, like the ones the guy in the New Republic article was worried about when he said, “Hey, I’m forty years old and I have to get in front of a board of fresh-faced kids. I can’t look like I have a wife and two-point-five kids and a mortgage.” That’s grotesque. 

The Bay Area’s extreme obsession with youth is no more palatable than standard-issue bias against people with dark skin or a vagina or who use a wheelchair. Yet it wasn’t until people at the top of the food chain—smart, skilled, straight, well-paid, non-disabled white guys in their thirties—experienced discrimination for the first time, that ageism in the workplace garnered some well-deserved attention. Imagine what it’s like for people further down the food chain.

So how can we achieve age diversity in Silicon Valley? 

By hiring and holding onto older workers, obviously. This means offering flexible hours, increasing accessibility, providing training, and helping people transition to part-time employment. Arrangements like these benefit other workers too: parents of young children, caregivers for people of all ages, and anyone else struggling for work-life balance in the era of always-on. Companies also benefit. Organizations that don’t discriminate aren’t just better places to work, they work better. Managers don’t want to come up short when a project calls for a range of talents and backgrounds, and smart ones know that an age-diverse team is most likely to deliver it. Older people use and need technology, and not just “age-independence technology,” which is booming, but software and devices that will help us get jobs and get laid and get where we’re going, just like everyone else. Those products will work better and sell better if older users help design them. 

It’s in our enlightened self-interest as well: everyone who is aging—this means you—will end up depending on some of these products. It’s also in our self-interest to help older people stay on the job, because it benefits the economy and the federal budget. When they can’t find work, many become economically dependent, contributing to the misperception that olders are a net burden to society. It’s not by choice.

What is achieving age diversity really going to take? Nothing less than a mass movement like the ones that woke us up to the entrenched systems of racism and sexism around us. We still have a long way to go on all these fronts, as you say, but thanks to attention from people like you and Bill Maher and Madonna, an anti-ageism movement is gaining traction. 

Confronting ageism begins with examining our own prejudices. Olders, for example, may not like being managed someone young enough to be a grandchild, and youngers bridle at sharing an office with someone their mom’s age. Suck it up and find out what you have in common. Confronting ageism means seeing older people not as alien and “other” but as us—future us, that is—and making friends of all ages. It means speaking up when you encounter ageism—if everyone in the room is the same age, for example, unless there’s a legitimate reason. (Bad reasons: because it’s a Unicorn startup, or because you’re working on an achingly hip mobile app.) Confronting ageism means making the world a better place to live in, not just for people in tech and not just for people on the “wrong” side of some imaginary old/young divide. Longevity is here to stay. Everyone is aging. It’s time. 

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terrific new report from the World Health Organization

The WHO’s new 2015 World Report on Aging and Health offers a practical roadmap for reframing public health policies to accommodate population aging—“ageing,” that is. As the foundation for its recommendations, it identifies the first priority as “Changing perceptions of health and aging.” Rather than paraphrase, I’ll let a few excerpts speak for themselves. 

  • “One of the challenges to developing a comprehensive response to population ageing is that many common perceptions and assumptions about older people are based on outdated stereotypes. This limits the way we conceptualize problems, the questions we ask and our capacity to seize innovative opportunities. The evidence suggests fresh perspectives are needed.”
  • There is no typical older person. As the evidence shows, the loss of ability typically associated with ageing is only loosely related to a person’s chronological age.”
  • “Though most older people will eventually experience multiple health problems, older age does not imply dependence. Aged-based assumptions of dependence ignore the many contributions that older people make to the economy.”
  • “Contrary to common assumptions, ageing has far less influence on health care expenditures than other factors, including the high costs of new medical technologies. For example, in the United States between 1940 and 1990 (a period of significantly faster population ageing than has occurred since), ageing appears to have contributed only around 2% to the increase in health expenditures while technology-related changes were responsible for between 38% and 65% of growth.”
  • “For most older people, the maintenance of functional ability has the highest importance. The greatest costs to society are not the expenditures made to foster this functional ability, but the benefits that might be missed if we fail to make the appropriate adaptations and investments.
  • Expenditures on health systems, long-term care and broader enabling environments are often portrayed as costs. This report … considers these expenditures as investments that enable the ability and, thus, the well-being and contribution of older people. These investments also help societies meet their obligations with regards to the fundamental rights of older people. In some cases, the return on these investments is direct (better health systems lead to better health which allows greater participation and well-being). Other returns may be less obvious but require equal consideration: for example, investing in long-term care will help older people with a significant loss of capacity maintain lives of dignity and it can also allow women to remain in the workforce, and foster social cohesion through risk-sharing across a community.” 

In her introduction, WHO Director-General Dr.Margaret Chan writes, “In my view, the World report on ageing and health has the potential to transform the way policy-makers and service-providers perceive population ageing – and plan to make the most of it.” I think she’s right.