One of the joys of writing the Age-Wise column is the affirmation that comes from readers. It is always confirming to know there are folks out there who find some benefit in my research and thinking about my own aging journey. To get feedback from a quoted author of renown was a pleasant surprise.
Ashton Applewhite, author, speaker and activist for healthy aging, sent me an email in response to the column on racism and ageism. It was complimentary, for sure, but also timely because I had just participated in a webinar about “reframing ageism.”
She observed that she was “digging into the intersection of ageism and ableism, which is where so much of our fear of aging takes root. The movement to end ageism is very much underway,” as identified by the good news of the online webinar conversations.
Reframing perceptions of aging promoted the concept that “ageism is bad for your health.” Scrutiny of public policies and influencing governments at all levels has become a goal of a consortium of organizations concerned that Americans hear little about aging as a matter that requires a public response, and even less about ageism —discrimination based on age.
Stereotypes about elders promoted by the media have become evident in the “othering” of COVID-19, with grandparents as targets. Depicting grandma as lonely, ill and cut off from society during the pandemic has added to the long-standing stereotypes of aging.
Clearly we now realize that all ages are impacted by the pandemic. A high percentage of older Americans, perhaps brought up with the “golden rule” to respect others, seem to be very compliant with the rules of the Center for Disease Control, while younger generations seem to be less serious about wearing masks and maintaining six feet of distance.
This new “generation gap” calls for enlightened attitudes and beliefs about older Americans. The reality of longevity has changed and healthy aging is increasing. Advocacy for long-term care with dignity and independence is needed to counter the negative effects on our health beyond the current COVID-19 crisis.
Knowing this, eight leading national organizations, including the American Society for Aging and AARP, came together to change the way we think about aging. The Reframing Aging Initiative is taking a fresh look at legislation and has placed more awareness on elder abuse, fall-prevention, staying strong with balance activities, and end-of-life care.
I even received advice from the webinar as a writer, being encouraged to promote age-friendly topics, and also being warned to monitor the headlines publishers use to highlight such articles. As Applewhite points out, “The movement’s time has come in part because Baby Boomers can no longer run and hide from the fact that they are aging.”
The research challenged me to examine my own life experiences and review how I feel about my own aging. I wonder what messages I may have absorbed over the years, and how I think and talk about older people, and how I feel myself about getting older.
While it may be uncomfortable, it is liberating to contemplate my own end of life. My accumulated life experiences have built a special strength to face death with dignity and “complete the life cycle,” as expressed by Erik Erikson. The reality that “we don’t get out of this life alive” is ultimate wisdom. We are all in the same boat as with the COVID!
As I write this, news of the passing of “Black Panther” Chadwick Boseman punctuates the point and suggests, in the film’s dialogue with his father, the Chief: “A man who has not prepared his children for his own death is not a good father.”
My family had such preparation from our experience caregiving my wife, Norma. She was stricken by the deadly Alzheimer’s disease, for which we Walk in Western New Hampshire on Sept. 26. The reality of the inevitable ending sustained our family to the end of her life. We now celebrate her life with this Purple Flower tribute for all deceased Alzheimer’s victims:
“After living for 10 years in the shadow of her Alzheimer’s diagnosis, my wife, Norma, was set free from the prison of a disease without a cure. Our family celebrated her release and recalled all the blessings of a life well-lived, hoping that someday the PURPLE FLOWER would disappear.”