The Eldercare Advocate
Are we living longer as a society? According to Paul Irving, Chairman of The Milken Institute Center for The Future of Aging, while overall it appears people are living to advanced ages, there is inequality in longevity which can be linked directly to socioeconomics and community.
The quality of people’s lives is significantly affected by their financial means and as well as where they live. Access to, and knowledge of, a healthy lifestyle, including regular exercise and a more healthful diet, access to health care, as well as depression, loneliness, and isolation, are factors linked to decrease in life span over the past 3 years for people who life in communities where they may be facing more challenges as opposed to those living in more rural areas. Other factors which may affect a person’s overall health issues is actually discrimination against older people, also known as ageism.
The John Hartford Foundationreleased an issue brief in April of 2017 entitled “Reframing Aging”. The brief emphasizes the negative impact of our society’s view of becoming older, and because of this negative view, as if it is a fate to be avoided at all costs (a conundrum in and of itself. In a previous blogpost, I suggested the incongruence of us mourning premature death as a life unfulfilled, and yet shunning the notion of getting older, avoiding the discussion at all costs.) However, discrimination faced by older people is actually an issue of national concern which needs to be addressed. This discrimination leads us as a society to accept, tolerate or seem to be disinterested in the poor care, poor treatment, lack of dignity and lack of respect faced by older people, and indeed those that are very old.
The brief goes on to call for the need to redefine aging. This is based on the negative assumptions about what it means to get old. In addition, as Paul Irving states, there is no one size fits all. There is a vast difference to each person who is 65, 75, 85, or 95. No different that there is a vast difference amongst people of any other age group. These differences may be defined by health, wealth, education, religion, gender and sexual preference but can certainly go on from there.
Rather than having sympathy for the older person, society must shape its attitudes towards inclusion. It is indeed a human rights issue. The rights of the older person in no way differs from the rights of any other person in society.
The words we use also has a tremendous impact on our attitudes. In American culture, from the time we are little we are using the word ‘old’ as in “how old are you”. Other cultures ask the query, “how many years do you have?”, or “what year are you living?”. Transforming our language will play an important role in changing our attitudes.
Lastly, the brief suggests an entirely new perception about aging, both from society as a whole, as well as from the perspective of the person who is advancing in their years. It suggests the notion of building momentum, I support terminology such as advancing in years or continuing life’s journey. It is an accomplishment, something to be admired and respected. Other cultures consider reaching an advanced age as a jubilee of sorts. In the latter case, it is documented that a person’s self-image has a tremendous impact on their overall health.
Science has done its part in helping people live longer. But institutions, society, businesses, communities have not necessarily kept up with science on the one hand yet, on the other, it has perpetuated our youth oriented culture. This is most evident in the $16.8 billion spent on both invasive and less invasive cosmetic techniques to maintain or regain their youthful appearance. Is this not counterintuitive to the idea of accepting and appreciating one’s age. I’ve heard people say, look at the wrinkles on my face and the gray hairs on my head, I have earned every single one. They have meaning and importance, not only in my life, but for the life of others.
What is the cost to society if we don’t change our attitudes, provide better care and a better quality of life to people as they advance in age? Those “wisdom keepers” are a valuable natural resource that can add tremendous value to our society on many fronts and to the lives of those younger than they who can indeed benefit from the wealth of acquired knowledge through years of life experience.
What is it to feel a particular age?
When we are younger, as we advance from our 20’s. to our 30’s and probably to about our 50’s we feel a sense of growth and maturity. But, what do we feel as we continue on our life’s journey from that point upward to our 60’’s, 70’s, 80’s, 90’s?
Irving points out that prior to the 20thcentury creation of the “Happy Birthday” song, age was judged by fitness, health, etc. A return to this way of thinking may help us on the road to restructuring and refashioning our attitudes towards people as they continue to age.
Hugo Gerstl, a guest on Voices for Eldercare Advocacy remains a practicing trial attorney and author of 5 books at seventy-eight years of age. He suggests that despite what we see in the mirror, a person always remains the same age deep down inside himself or herself, and that age is early maturity.
Gerstl also suggests that there is not a limitation or an endpoint in the jobs of life and he believes that the attitude one has toward or traditional idea of a job affects our attitudes towards life. In our early years, through teens or early twenties for some, it is the job of going to school which is followed by years of gainful employment. But, if one chooses to end their traditional employment, they can think of their job as a continuation to acquire knowledge, to grow, to help others, to have interests beyond himself or herself. This is what keeps a person vital, vibrant, active and engaged. In doing so, there are significant contributions one can make though they may take on a different form.