A Better Way to Look at Aging

In this country, aging is viewed far more negatively than in other countries. As a society we believe aging is something to be feared, instead of understanding it as a normal life process that we all share. We tend to blame individuals for their aging-associated challenges, saying things like, “If only he had started saving for retirement a little earlier,” or, “she should have built herself a stronger network of support.” We do this instead of looking at the larger picture. There are unique experiences and challenges that come with being older, and it’s our collective responsibility to address them, because they impact our total wellbeing as a society.

In the study Gauging Aging: Mapping the Gaps between Expert and Public Understandings of Aging in America (https://www.frameworksinstitute.org/pubs/mtg/gaugingaging/index.html), the Frameworks Institute found that public views on aging rely heavily on implicit understandings and assumptions that are often unrealistic or fatalist. There seems to be a shared perception of aging as a process of deterioration and dependency. Many people think that aging is a time when decline is inevitable, unless a person fights against it to stay active and independent and healthy.

It turns out that these perceptions don’t match reality. The process of aging is distinct from disease and decline, and older adults can live healthy and happy lives. One key way to reframe our thinking on aging is to talk about it differently. For example, instead of saying “they” when referring to older people, we can choose to use “we,” which acknowledges the fact that we are all aging, and we are all affected by how well older people are faring.

The United States is a country rapidly growing older as a population. In Vermont alone, 24 percent of those living in our state will be 65 or older by the year 2035, according to the Vermont Housing Finance Agency. Americans in general are living longer than ever, with over 80 percent of our population living past age 65. Older adults have a tremendous economic and social impact on society, and we should acknowledge that.

Guided by the principles of dignity and love and staying active and integrated with the community that surrounds them should be the goal of all people that support and care for our aging community. Providing opportunities for our elders to grow, engage, share their stories, learn, teach, and thrive helps them live to their potential rather than define them by their limitations.

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