We’ve all encountered ageism, both subtle and obvious; luckily there’s a groundswell of activism and conscious raising about it that’s vital to combat it. As ageism activist and blogger Ashton Applewhite, author of This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism, said in her TED talk “Let’s End Ageism,” (link here) it “feeds on denial—our reluctance to acknowledge that we are going to become that older person.”
Let’s look at the numbers
To learn more about millennials’ preconceptions of aging—that is, what they think will happen to them and who they think they see when they encounter older people—a recent survey asked 2,000+ U.S. respondents aged 16-34 to agree or disagree with 10 statements about aging, then checked their beliefs against available research. You can take the True or False quiz yourself and see how millennials’ understanding of age and your reality match up (answers at bottom of the post):
Millennials think driving skills decline with age.
As people age, they become lonelier.
People like their bodies less as they age.
Seniors physical health and mobility decline with age.
Older people lose touch with modern technology.
After 60 people’s sex lives decline.
When people get old, they have less of a sense of adventure and travel less.
People become an economic burden on society when they age.
Dementia is an inevitable result of old age.
As people grow old, they become less happy.
One solution: Meet AGNES
At some point, we all encounter aches and pains and for some of us, it can be chronic and even limiting. Younger people may just not get how these can complicate simple daily activities. To reveal what it is like to walk a mile in grandma’s shoes, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s AgeLab developed AGNES (Age Gain Now Empathy System) (learn more here) – a wearable suit that approximates the physical capabilities of someone in their 70s. Wearing it blurs vision, hampers balance, and hurts the back and feet.
AGNES has been worn by “students, product developers, designers, engineers, marketing planners, architects, packaging engineers, and others to better understand the physical challenges associated with aging.” Experiencing the limitations that affect seniors is guiding research into retirement and longevity planning, caregiving, home services, transportation design and designing livable communities that facilitate well-being.
But one major problem of aging remains isolation – but it’s a problem for younger folks, as well. Research published in 2018 found 18 to 22-year-olds were more likely to be lonely than any other U.S. demographic. The good news? There are more and more organizations stepping in. In the U.S., the Fellowship for Intentional Community, which champions communities based on common values, lists 1,539 cohousing communities around the country. Some of these bring seniors and youngsters together for their mutual benefit, like this one in Chicago.
We are in this world to be a friend of everybody, an Indian adage goes, and that applies to ourselves, too. Empathy between generations boosts quality of life for both young and old. Challenge yourself to reach out. The data say you can do it – and so can they.
Photo: Erin Hooley / Chicago Tribune
QUIZ: 1) Mostly false; 2) Mostly true; 3) False (yep, that’s right, we like our bodies!); 4) True; 5) Mostly false, especially for Senior Planet members, find a location here; 6) True, but our Sex Columnist Joan Price would disagree; 7) False; 8) False – and this is a popular misconception with very dangerous consequences if left unchallenged; 9) False; 10) False.