At the same time that medical improvements over the past decade enable us to grow older and healthier, there is an alarming trend of devaluing older adults.
Our region will have twice as many people age 65 and older by 2030. We are not prepared for this "age wave." Aging issues continue to be ignored. Resources for older people are shrinking in large part due to ageism. We live in a youth-focused society. Older adults are often seen as dependent, helpless, unproductive and demanding rather than deserving and contributing.
Ageism can involve stereotypes and myths, or outright disdain and dislike (e.g., "I don't like working with older people"). In some cases, ageism means avoiding contact with older people. Ageism includes the wide range of attitudes that prevent people from accurately assessing and responding to social problems and conditions of older adults. Ageism can be reflected in discriminatory practices in housing, employment, and services of all kinds.
Aging is a universal issue that affects the entire community. As we face the increasing number of retiring baby boomers, we need to confront our perceptions of aging. We can begin by understanding how older adults enrich us.
Older adults contribute time, skills and experience to improve people's lives.
Sarah, a 70-year-old retired occupational therapist, formed a support group for families of adults with developmental disabilities. Three days a week, she teaches living and communication skills to adults with developmental disabilities.
Gene, in his 60s, has been in recovery from substance abuse and mental illness for more than a year. He obtained a peer support specialist certificate. Now he works part time, helping others to understand the need for compliance with their medications and recovery from mental illness.
Hattie, an 80-year-old grandmother is raising her teenage grandson. She has a wit and vibrancy that belies her age. She is one of more than 17,000 grandparents raising grandchildren in Detroit so that thousands of children are able to learn in school and grow up to become contributing adults.
Instead of depicting older people as a "problem," we need to recognize that our future depends upon addressing injustices they face. Let us honor the value of older adults in our lives as our mentors, caregivers, teachers and leaders. Let us confront our bias and invest more to prepare for our aging community. It is in our best interests to do so because even if you don't have an older adult in your life now, one day you are likely to become one.