Ageism Pearl

Dali: Dream of Venus (Visions of Eternity)

Recognize Your Own Ageism

Do you want to live in a place of your choosing? Nearly everyone, regardless of their age or disability, has reported in surveys that they prefer living in a community rather than an institution. The Administration for Community Living (ACL) was established to maximize the independence and well-being of people with disabilities across the lifespan as well as older adults. May is named “Older Americans Month” with a theme this year of Aging Unbound. One aspect of this theme addresses ageism in our culture.  

Other organizations also focus on ageism – AARP and American Society on Aging come to mind. According to research, 93.4 % of adults ages 50-80 experience one or more forms of ageism EVERY DAY.

While often negative, sometimes ageism takes a positive twist. I experienced a positive bit of ageism at my public library this week. After parking in the underground garage, I approached the stairwell leading to the first floor. I held the door open for a young woman right behind me, in case she also was stair-climbing. She turned to go to the elevator, gave me a once-over look, and then reconsidered, saying, “Well, if you are going to take the stairs, I can take the stairs too!” I gave her a serene smile.

Yes, all ages, take the stairs if it is possible for you! I am especially grateful for stair-climbing after months of slow healing from a sprained ankle that made stairs challenging. 

  • Gerontologists Lakelyn Eichenberger and Molly Carpenter recently presented an excellent webinar on ageism. Here are takeaways:
  • Ageism has many flavors — assumptions, stereotypes, and discrimination.
  • Benevolent ageism may view older adults as warm, friendly, but incompetent.
  • Functional age, or what a person can do, is overlooked regularly.
  • Even children’s books may depict older adults as “limited” rather than savvy about life.
  • Marketing tends to denigrate aging. (Greeting cards are notorious for bad jokes; “over-the-hill” party packs feature words such as “wrinkles” and “sagging.”)
  • An AARP study found older adults are under-represented in ads or are pictured in wheelchairs by themselves, not integrated with the world.  

While these takeaways may not surprise you, the most meaningful aspect of this webinar was when the presenters aimed their Powerpoint slides toward participants, asking us to recognize ageism in ourselves:

  • Do you equate looking old with looking “bad?” Are you ashamed of the physical signs of aging (wrinkles)?
  • Do you ever feel “too old” or “out of place?”
  • Do you embrace the aging experiences of older colleagues, neighbors or family members?
  • Do you discuss ageism with anyone?

One presenter admitted that she uses make-up to “cover” wrinkles, but she admires those who have given up make-up. It is a stereotype that women are acculturated to believe we need “foundation” facial products. What about concerning ourselves with the foundation of ageism and working on transforming U.S. cultural perceptions of aging?  

Pearls of Peace (PoP) Quiz

183. When do you need “cover-up” from your aging? 184. What does ageism mean to you?                                             

By Janis Johnston

Janis Clark Johnston, Ed.D., has a doctorate in counseling psychology from Boston University. She has worked with children, families, and groups (ages 3-83) with presenting issues of anxiety, depression, trauma, loss, and relationship concerns. She initially worked as a school psychologist in public schools and was awarded School Psychology Practitioner of the Year for Region 1 in Illinois for her innovative work. She was a supervising psychologist at a mental health center, an employee-assistance therapist and a trainer for agencies prior to having a family therapy private practice. Recipient of the 2011 Founder’s Award for her dedication to the parenting education of Parenthesis Family Center (now called New Moms), and the 2002 Community Spirit Award from Sarah’s Inn, a domestic violence shelter and education center, Johnston is an active participant in numerous volunteer activities supporting children and families in her community. A frequent presenter at national psychology and educational conferences, Johnston has published journal articles, book chapters, and two books -- It Takes a Child to Raise a Parent: Stories of Evolving Child and Parent Development (2013, hardback; 2019, paperback) and Midlife Maze: A Map to Recovery and Rediscovery after Loss (2017, hardback; 2019, paperback). In addition to augmenting and supporting personal growth in families, Johnston is a Master Gardener and loves nurturing growth in the plants in her yard.

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