Some positive trends in the way we view aging offer hopeful signs
I recently was interviewed by geropsychologist and author Joseph Casciani on his radio show “Living to 100 Club,” heard on the Voice of America Network, Health and Wellness channel. The show is designed to help older adults live their best life and “turn aging on its head.”
Casciani sent me several questions to consider for the interview. As I reviewed the questions and the notes I had written in preparation, I realized my answers were a perspective on aging that I may not have readily expressed in my columns. For this week, I thought I would share some of my views. Here are the questions and my answers in an edited form for this column.
Joseph Casciani: From your vantage point, what have you seen take place in how older adults are viewed?
Helen Dennis: We have several positive indicators. Let’s take the political scene. President Donald Trump is age 74; President-elect Joe Biden is 78 as is Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi is 80 years old and Senator Chuck Grassley is 87.
Then there is Hollywood: Maggie Smith is 85, Robert DeNiro made his latest film “The Comeback Trail” at age 77. Helen Mirren is 75, Diane Keaton is 74 and Barbara Streisand is 78 years old. Al Pacino starred in his latest film “Hunters” at age 80.
Then there are books with positive titles such as “The Upside of Aging” by Paul Irving, “The 100-Year Life: Living and Working in an Age of Longevity” by Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott and “This Chair Rocks” by Ashton Applewhite. We have movements that affirm the value of older adults such as Gen to Gen which has launched a campaign to “mobilize 1 million adults 50+ to stand up for — and with — young people today.”
Another example is the Encore Network composed of 124 coalition leaders from 32 states and 11 countries who view longer lives as an asset. Yet despite our progress, ageism still exists. In an AARP workplace survey, two-thirds of those 45 years and older had experienced or seen age discrimination in the work setting. And among this two-thirds group reporting aging bias, 91 percent believe such discrimination is common.
J.C. What are the greatest benefits of this shift in attitude?
H.D. The benefits are many. Today, older adults have more opportunities, and that means more equal opportunities. One reason is a change in mindset. Many older adults do not see their age as a limiting factor to their dreams and activities. They have engaged in encore careers, gone back to school, become entrepreneurs and even athletes. Of equal or greater importance is the relationship between having a positive attitude about aging and longevity. Beca Levy of Yale found in her research that those who had a positive view of aging lived on average seven-and-a-half years longer compared to those who did not have such an attitude.
J.C. Has the anti-aging mentality as seen in products, books, miracle drugs and the media given us the impression that aging is not good and we need to avoid it. Has this helped or hurt the positive shift toward aging?
H.D. I believe the anti-aging movement goes against the positive view of aging and has explicit ageism as part of its rationale. The movement assumes that aging is not a natural or normal process. Rather it is to be denied and covered up instead of being embraced. The dread of aging may be an obstacle to important decisions such as planning for retirement and the end of life. …We do know that we can influence how we age and the rate we age by the lifestyle we choose.
Next week, I’ll share my answers to the remaining questions. In the meantime, please take care during this pandemic; protect yourself and your loved ones. For more information on the Living to 100 Club and to access their library of interviews, see www.livingto100.club.
Helen Dennis is a nationally recognized leader on issues of aging, employment and the new retirement with academic, corporate and nonprofit experience. Contact Helen with your questions and comments at Helendenn@gmail.com. Visit Helen at HelenMdennis.com and follow her on facebook.com/SuccessfulagingCommunity.