What would a future without ageism look like? Is it something we can aspire to and expect? In many cultures, European and Asian, elderly family members are respected and even celebrated. In countries that are influenced by Confucian principals such as filial piety, laws dictate family responsibility of elders down to the detail of how often one should visit their parents (Huffington Post Article). I never expect such law enforcement in our country on behalf of older adults, but let’s hope we can effect a cultural change and foster greater regard for American older adults as they become one-fourth of our total population in the coming years.
Let’s put on our imagination hats and dream of a country that no longer diminishes older age or embraces age biases. What would that look like?
I would hope to live in a culture where aging is normalized. Normalization would mean that negative stereotypes of declining health, vigor, and sharpness are no longer a thought among the general population. I imagine a world in which the wisdom of years of service in a workforce is valued. Retirement age-limits in the workforce would not be determined by a random age-restriction but rather by a checklist of skills. As long as one is able to perform the necessary duties, a person would have the chance to continue in employment. Most importantly, I hope for a community in which older adults are fully integrated into the population so that older adults can remain abreast of current trends from “youngers” and younger adults can benefit from years of wisdom and experience from “olders.”
ACHIEVING THE DREAM
Such a dream does not manifest itself overnight or on its own. It would take involvement, investment, and transformation. An increase in those trained in gerontology and geropsychology would be a good place to begin. These new professionals could conduct research to validate the value of older adults in society. Their involvement might include research and advocacy for current policies that need refinement or total obliteration. These phycologists and other advocates could strive for a cultural attitude adjustment with large scale learning experiences that counterbalance existing biases and promote a more positive attitude toward aging.
Desegregation of older adults would allow for the full integration of generations. In our present world, older adults often experience a greater degree of isolation compared to their younger counterparts. Such isolation can create a disconnection and often leads to depression. Desegregation can occur in cities and towns by investment in infrastructure that is user-friendly for older adults:
- smooth walking areas
- sloping curbs
- crosswalks with adjustable walk times
- mass transit with the older adult in mind
Technology can also assist in integration with the utilization/creation of apps. Online services such as Uber-type transportation and online handyman services such as airtasker.com or taskrabbit.com allow people to remain independent and integrated into their home community. Socialization can be encouraged through virtual connections via FaceTime and Skype; new connections can be established based on similar interests through sites such as MeetUp or EventBrite.
Within senior living communities
Even within our utopia for older adults, some will be living in senior living communities. In the future, I hope that leaders of these communities have incorporated technology that enables residents to remain connected through such technology. Geographically, many family members may live far away, but modern technology can bring them into living rooms and to bedsides. Our campuses should remain current by thoroughly utilizing the latest technologies to enhance living and independence. Programming should be inter-generational so there is constant integration. Out-of-the-box arrangements such as shared housing with older adults and younger counterparts can create a win-win for both parties, particularly when younger adults may be seeking an affordable arrangement while earning an advanced degree. And lastly, but I would suggest most importantly, part of our goal should be to enable residents to find purpose and utilize their abilities, either on our campuses or beyond our doors.
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