For almost every problem, concern or cause directed toward older adults there is a more inclusive, ageless perspective that could engender broader support for their resolution.
First, though, we must stop representing older adults as a special-needs or special-interest group, who are disadvantaged, helpless, burdens to themselves and society. This “victim” role, a sort of unintended character assassination or arrested development, is perpetuating a self-fulfilling and unhealthy perception. Further, such stereotyping marginalizes the potential individual and societal benefits of longevity – more time, resources, experience and opportunity.
This is not to imply that aging is a cake walk. But problems alone should not define aging. Any more than we allow aging to define said problems. Instead, by placing issues related to growing older in a positive, broader context, we can help strengthen their cross-generational appeal.
For example: Policymakers, advocates, employers and/or educators could:
- Create intergenerational, flex-time work schedules that allow older employees to remain productive yet pursue personal interests; and to mentor younger employees.
- Develop appealing urban areas with intergenerational housing, services, learning programs, transportation and volunteerism, rather than segregating older adults in “retirement communities.”
- Develop programs that emphasize healthy longevity as a lifetime commitment to good nutrition and exercise. The ultimate goal from an early age should be to compress morbidity – to live longer and healthier; and minimize chronic medical conditions.
- Increase funding for Alzheimer’s research because the horrific disease personally affects everyone – emotionally and economically.
- Teach caregiving in high school for practical reasons and to nurture generativity – one generation supporting another. And it supports the growing employment opportunities for in-home care providers.
- Reposition “elder abuse” to impose stricter penalties on criminals who prey on anyone with diminished physical or mental capacity (which is not exclusive to older adults.)
- Promote our aging population as opportunities for invention and innovation as well as new career paths and jobs.
Once we demonstrate why and how older adults are relevant and essential, longevity becomes a universal goal rather than an intergenerational competition.