How to beat the stereotypes around aging

What can be done about negative stereotypes that portray older individuals as out-of-contact, useless, feeble, incompetent, pitiful and irrelevant?

From late-night time TV comedy shows where supposedly clueless older people will be the butt of jokes to advertisings for anti-aging creams equating youth with beauty and wrinkles with decay, harsh and unflattering images condition assumptions about aging.

Although people may hope for good health insurance and happiness, used they tend to think that growing older involves deterioration and decline, according to reports from the Reframing Aging Initiative

Dismal expectations can become self-fulfilling as people start experiencing changes connected with growing older – aching knees or problems with hearing, for instance.

If a person has internalized negative stereotypes, his confidence may be eroded, pressure responses activated, determination diminished (“I’m old, and it’s really too late to change things”) and a feeling of efficacy (“I can do this”) impaired.

Health often suffers as a result, according to studies showing that older individuals who hold negative stereotypes have a tendency to walk slowly, experience memory challenges and recover less fully from a fall or fracture, among other ramifications. By contrast, seniors whose view of aging is mainly confident live 7.5 years longer

Can positive photos of aging be increased and the effects of negative stereotypes reduced? At a recent conference of the National Academies of Sciences’ Discussion board on Maturing, Disability and Independence , professionals embraced this aim and offered several ideas for how it is usually advanced:

Become aware of implicit biases. Implicit biases are automatic, unexamined thoughts that reside below the amount of consciousness. A good example: the view of a mature person using a cane might trigger associations with “dependency” and “incompetence” — negative biases.

Discussion board attendee Dr. Charlotte Yeh, chief medical officer for AARP Companies Inc., spoke of her experience after being struck by an automobile and undergoing a lengthy, painful procedure for rehabilitation. Limping and using a cane, she routinely determined strangers treating her as if she were helpless.

“I would come home feeling terrible about myself,” she said. Designing her cane with ribbons and bouquets turned things around. “People were like ‘Oh, my God that’s so nice,'” said Yeh, who noted that the decorations evoked the positivity connected with creativity instead of the negativity connected with disability.

Implicit biases can be difficult to discover, insofar as they coexist with explicit thoughts that appear to contradict them. For instance, implicitly, someone may look “being old is terrible” while explicitly see your face may think: “We must do considerably more, as a contemporary society, to value older people.” Yet this sort of conflict may move unrecognized.

To recognize implicit bias, focus on your automatic responses. If you find yourself flinching at the view of lines and wrinkles when you seem in the bathroom mirror, for example, acknowledge this response and then ask yourself, “How come this upsetting?”

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Use strategies to task biases. Patricia Devine, a professor of psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who studies ways to decrease racial prejudice, calls this “tuning in” to habits of head that usually go unexamined.

Resolving to change these practices isn’t enough, she stated, in the NAS forum’s gathering in New York City: “You will need strategies.” Her analysis demonstrates five strategies are effective:

Replace stereotypes. This entails turning out to be aware of and then altering responses informed by stereotypes. Rather than assuming a senior with a cane desires your help, for example, you might ask, “Would you like assistance?” – a problem that respects a person’s autonomy.

This entails becoming aware of and then altering responses informed by stereotypes. Rather than assuming a senior with a cane desires your help, for example, you might ask, “Would you like assistance?” – a problem that respects a person’s autonomy. Embrace new photos. This involves thinking about people who don’t fit the stereotype you’ve acknowledged. This may be a group of people (older athletes), a well-known person (TV maker Norman Lear, now 95, who only sold a display on maturing to NBC) or someone you know (a cherished older good friend).

This involves thinking about people who don’t fit the stereotype you’ve acknowledged. This may be a group of people (older athletes), a well-known person (TV maker Norman Lear, now 95, who only sold a display on maturing to NBC) or someone you know (a cherished older good friend). Individualize it. The considerably more we realize about people, the much less we’re likely to think about them as a group characterized by stereotypes. Explore specifics. What unique difficulties does a mature person face? How does she cope daily?

The more we realize about people, the much less we’re likely to think about them as a group characterized by stereotypes. Explore specifics. What unique difficulties does a mature person face? How does she cope daily? Switch perspectives. This involves imagining yourself as an associate of the group you’ve been stereotyping. What would it not be like if strangers patronized you and called you “sweetie” or “dear,” for example?

This involves imagining yourself as an associate of the group you’ve been stereotyping. What would it not be like if strangers patronized you and called you “sweetie” or “dear,” for example? Make contact. Connect to the people you’ve been stereotyping. Move visit and talk with that friend who’s now residing in a retirement community.

Devine’s analysis hasn’t looked particularly at older individuals; the examples above come from other sources. But she’s optimistic that the basic lesson she’s learned, “prejudice is certainly a habit that can be broken,” applies nonetheless.

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Emphasize the great. Another technique — strengthening implicit confident stereotypes — comes from Becca Levy, a professor of epidemiology and psychology at Yale University and a leading researcher in this field.

In a 2016 research , she and several colleagues demonstrated that exposing older adults to subliminal great messages about aging several times over the course of a month improved their mobility and balance — crucial measures of physical function.

The messages were embedded in word blocks that flashed quickly across a screen, including descriptors such as wise, creative, spry and fit. The weekly sessions were about quarter-hour long, proving that a good relatively short contact with positive photos of aging can make a difference.

At the forum, Levy noted that 196 countries across the world have focused on support the World Health Organization’s fledgling campaign to get rid of ageism — discrimination against people simply because they are old. Bolstering confident images of maturing and countering the result of negative stereotypes should be a central component of this endeavor, she remarked. It’s also something older individuals can do, individually, by choosing to give attention to what’s going very well in their lives instead of what’s going wrong.

Claim a chair at the table. “Nothing about us without us” is certainly a clarion call of disability activists, who have demanded that their right to participate fully in contemporary society be recognized and made possible by sufficient accommodations such as ramps that allow people in wheelchairs to enter open public buildings.

Up to now, however, seniors haven’t similarly insisted on inclusion, so that it is easier to overlook the ways that they’re marginalized.

At the forum, Kathy Greenlee, vice president of aging and health plan at the Center for Practical Bioethics in Kansas City and formerly assistant secretary for aging in the U.S. Department of Health insurance and Human Services, needed a fresh wave of advocacy by and for seniors, saying, “We are in need of more older people talking publicly about themselves and their lives.”

“Everybody is battling aging independently, reinforcing the idea that how someone age groups is that individual’s responsibility” instead of a collective responsibility, she explained.

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Underscoring Greenlee’s level, the forum didn’t have any older adult audio speakers discussing their experience with maturing and disability.

In an exclusive conversation, however, Fernando Torres-Gil, the forum’s co-chair and professor of social welfare and public plan at UCLA, spoke of these themes.

Torres-Gil contracted polio when he was 6 months outdated and spent most of his childhood and adolescence at what was then called the Shriners Medical center for Crippled Children in San Francisco. Back then, kids with polio were shunned. “It’s a genuine tough thing to become excluded,” he remembered.

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His suggestions to older individuals whose self-photo is threatened by the onset of impairment: “Persevere with optimism. Hang in there. Don’t give up. And never feel sorry for yourself.”

Now age 69, Torres-Gil struggles with post-polio syndrome and has to walk with crutches and leg braces, which he had abandoned in small adulthood and midlife. “I’m planning for my motorized scooter,” he stated with a smile, then quickly turned serious.

“The thing is to simply accept whatever is happening to you, not really deny it,” he said, speaking about adjusting attitudes about aging. “You can’t keep things as they are: You have to proceed through a necessary reassessment of what’s practical. The thing is to accomplish it with graciousness, not really bitterness, and to find out how to ask for help, acknowledging the reality of interdependence.”

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