By: Dr. Beth Templin
This picture says it all. This is what many people believe aging looks like. They believe it means losing your independence and sleeping your day away in a wheelchair. They believe it means becoming a burden to your loved ones, living out each day with nothing to look forward to. They believe it means moving into a nursing home and spending
your time being tired and bored. That it means having more trouble with your memory and not being able to take care of yourself.
While it is true that some people travel down this road of losing their independence and needing to move to a nursing home for care, it only applies to a very small percentage of the aging population. As a matter of fact, according to the National Institutes of Health, less than 5% of people 65 and older live in a nursing home. That means that 95% of people are living in their own homes or apartments or with other family members.
When aging adults are asked if they think they will be able to age in place, the numbers just don’t match up. According to AARP “While 76% of Americans age 50 and older say they prefer to remain in their current residence and 77% would like to live in their community as long as possible, just 59% anticipate they will be able to stay in their community, either in their current home (46%) or a different home still within their community (13%).”
There is a huge discrepancy between what people believe will happen when they age and what is actually happening. Only 59% of people believe they will be able to continue living out in the community, but the truth is it is closer to 95% of aging adults are still living out in the community. Why is this discrepancy so large? It goes back ageism in society and the negative stereotypes and preconceived notions that people have about aging.
Ageism shows up in the way people view aging.
In general, people believe that you are bound to become weak with age. That you have no choice but to become dependent on others. People believe all older adults will experience health declines with age. Ageism perpetuates the beliefs that older adults are a financial burden on the healthcare system due to multiple health declines. That they are a burden on the economy because they are no longer contributing to society in a meaningful way.
Ageism shows up in ways people treat you.
Someone may talk to your son and daughter, instead of talking directly to you because they assume you have memory issues, or aren’t the one making the decision. The truth is that dementia only affects 5-8% of people ae 60 and above. Again, that’s a very small percentage, but it is widely believed that everyone develops dementia with age sooner or later.
Ageism starts at a very young age.
Let me share the story of my two daughters and the 100th day of school. For the 100th day of school my girls were asked to dress up as 100-year-olds. We spray painted their hair gray and they wore pretend glasses. I was ok with this portrayal because graying hair and changes in vision are normal aspects of aging. I let them wear what they identified as “grandma” clothes and they accessorize with necklaces and hot pink lipstick.
Then they asked to have canes, to which I gave a firm “no” trying to gently educate them that just because you’re old doesn’t mean you will need a cane. Then my oldest daughter, who is 7 years old, started walking around with bent over posture, holding her low back and limping!!
I was horrified.
She’s still so young and already those preconceived negative ideas of aging are guiding her perception of what it means to get old.
Where did she learn all of these negative stereotypes of aging? It’s everywhere in our daily culture. In the cartoons and TV commercials they watch, in the stories they read, in the conversations they overhear. It was a huge wake-up call for me.
There is a need to acknowledge ageism exists and realize the impact it has on your perception of aging. Then next step is to educate yourself on what "normal" aging really is, so that you can better plan and prepare for your aging journey.
Next week I’ll share how ageism happens even in the healthcare system and what that means for you.
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Dr. Beth helps adults 55+ understand the changes of aging and how to live a healthy active lifestyle, so they don’t start to miss out on the good things in life.