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It Takes ‘Ingenuity’ and More to Reframe Aging

By May 9, 2017Longevity

Stuart Greenbaum

Credit the FrameWorks Institute with using ingenuity “to increase public support for policies and practices that can be advanced to support a robust, healthy, age-integrated society.”

A series of briefs and worksheets released early this year by FrameWorks encourages advocates in the field of aging to cultivate a more visible and informed discourse on older people to “advance the systemic changes needed to adjust to a society with increased and increasing longevity.”

There are no “catchy slogans,” the brief on framing strategies states. But, clearly the use of language is critical to the process. The first recommendation calls for advocates to redefine aging itself by “sending the message that older age, like any other time of life, involves both challenges and opportunities.” Other priority concepts include reshaping wellbeing in later life as a societal concern rather than an individual matter; and increasing older adults’ full participation in society by reducing ageist views.


FrameWorks’ research found several themes to be demonstrably effective in communicating priorities and boosting policy preferences. “Use the value of Ingenuity,” the brief recommends, to frame policies and approaches as opportunities to solve problems. Tapping into the spirit of American innovation, the brief states, encourages the use of our social and technological ingenuity to develop solutions to our changing needs as Americans live longer and healthier lives.

Another theme or framing metaphor, Building Momentum, proposes positive ways of thinking and talking about “both the opportunities presented by an aging population and the risk to society of losing out on this potential.” FrameWorks explains it like this, “As we get older, we gain momentum, with the force of built-up experience and wisdom pushing us forward.”

By not treating older adults as equals, FrameWorks warns, “we are marginalizing their participation and minimizing their contributions.” To thematically frame such challenges related to aging and ageism, the recommendation is to use the Justice value to cast “topics like discrimination, isolation, abuse and disparities as threats to America’s commitment to fully include all members of society as equal participants.”

Examples and charts throughout the multiple documents recommend effective approaches, messaging and words the public can support, expect and demand. “Pay attention to pronouns; find ways to replace they or them with we and us.” Avoid “silver tsunami” and “rapidly increasing older population” that suggest society will be overwhelmed by older people. And rather than making generic appeals to “do something” about aging, a big-picture guide suggests referring to illustrative solutions, such as intergenerational community centers.


In the more expansive Finding the Frame: An Empirical Approach to Reframing Aging and Ageism, FrameWorks details the research findings. One experiment, for example, revealed how word choices and subtle labels influenced survey respondents’ views of the competency of people in later life. On a continuum from “least competent” to “most competent,” the results ranked “elder,” “senior citizen” and “senior” lower, and “older person” and “older adult” higher.

Although, in a follow-up question which asked respondents to indicate an age associated with each term, the mean age for “older adults” was just 54 years. That’s too young, suggest the FrameWorks analysts, who instead recommend this solution: “Advocates should consistently use the term older people. This term evokes, in the public mind, people aged 60 or older, and at the same time, brings with it the most positive, least paternalistic views of the age group described.”


These fresh releases from FrameWorks provide advocates in the field of aging with an abundance of useful guidance and specific strategies. And, most importantly, the recommendations are evidence-based. If we take the appropriate steps, the Institute’s analysts conclude, “an aging population could yield an incredible ‘longevity dividend’ as Americans gain an average of two decades of life in which to make social, civic and economic contributions.”

The ongoing Reframing Aging Initiative, of which FrameWorks is the social science research partner, is a collaborative of the nation’s leading aging-related organizations that includes AARP and various societies and councils on geriatrics, gerontology and aging.

Stuart Greenbaum is lead writer for the blog Humble Sky (, editor of the book Longevity Rules and a veteran public relations counselor. He is a Governor’s appointee to the California Commission on Aging, though this essay represents his own opinions.

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