Here’s a New Year’s resolution for the ages, all ages. Let’s resolve to make aging cool — in both perception and reality.
It’s a daunting task, one that will most likely take beyond this year, if not a generation. But we need to move quickly and deliberately, before aging completely devolves into novelty acts and parodies of once vital lives. To begin, no more use of “sweetie” and other overly familiar, condescending nicknames. And let’s control our obsession with videos of tap dancing grannies and senior choruses covering tired rock anthems.
Before you cry foul, consider this. Would you characterize Fred Astaire, who danced well into his late 80s as cute; or Tony Bennett, who at 88 is singing duets with Lady Gaga; or Sidney Poitier, still acting at 88; or world-renowned artist Wayne Thiebaud, 94? No. Because these older adults are performing and producing, not pandering; and are authentic, rather than novelties.
Stunts will never convince anyone that aging is relevant and cool. Instead they perpetuate negative perceptions of aging by characterizing it as cute.
Multiple research studies show that use of “elderspeak” is inappropriate. The most recent study by Minnesota and Oklahoma State universities define this negative behavior as simplified vocabulary, exaggerated intonation, use of the collective pronoun and use of personal terms of endearment, such as “honey” and “sweetie.” The study noted that elderspeak is likely to increase resistance to care, increase dependency, and threaten self-esteem and well-being.
CHANGE COMES FROM WITHIN
Equally critical in attempting to remove ageism from society, those of us who are unaffected by such prejudice must become as indignant as those who are. To do so, older adults themselves must take the initiative to demonstrate that aging can be interesting, dignified, purposeful and yes, cool, to effectively dispel stereotypes that suggest contrary.
Older adults must more intentionally balance their reverence for the past, with their life in the present. They must embrace rather than bemoan shifting cultural norms and technological progress. Only in this way can they can earn the respect of younger generations. They can take advantage of the insights they’ve acquired by living history to help everyone better maneuver similar challenges and opportunities in the present and future.
Today’s older adults are pioneers. Younger generations don’t necessarily need to follow, but it will serve them well to be open-minded enough to observe and listen … and learn.
In this way realistic change evolves organically. There’ll be no need for contriving or convincing. Aging and older adults will become respected and cool – and society will be better for it for generations to come.