Aging / America / Culture / Environment / Politics

Tackling Our Attitudes Toward Aging

Age is a sensitive topic in our society. Even Hollywood actress Jessica Chastain has gone on the record saying that she will never reveal her age because she’s an “actress.” (It is widely speculated she is 35 years old.) Another actress Isabelle Huppert rebuked an interviewer for asking a question about her “longevity” in the business. Sadly, these two famous actresses reflect the attitude of the majority of Americans. Our outlook on aging is the underlying cause for this mindset.

Can you imagine a society that puts a high value on the elderly? A society where every family is responsible for taking care of their loved ones? A society that combats ageism (prejudice or discrimination on the basis of a person’s age) as a whole…or a society that embraces aging by putting less emphasis on delayed aging and anti-aging research? If our society can adopt these changes, Medicaid costs will reduce and the expansion may not be necessary.

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In addition, the burden of certified nursing assistants working at retirement communities will decrease if society embraces the elderly. As a Program Assistant at a retirement community, I observed some of the nursing staff purchasing items for the residents with their personal finances in cases where families ignored their responsibilities. Earlier this year, China’s government surprised the world by allowing aging parents to prosecute their children for care. While no government can legislate loyalty or love, U.S. legislatures can encourage families to take an interest in the elderly.

Extended family sitting outdoors smiling

The Global AgeWatch Index issued a report on the quality of life of older people in 91 nations. The report included several factors such as income security, health and well-being, employment and education. Sweden, Norway, Germany, the Netherlands, and Canada topped the chart, with the U.S. coming in at number eight. For income security, the U.S. ranked 36—below nations like Greece, Albania, Uruguay and Hungary. This is because 23.6 percent of Americans over 60 live in relative poverty and the rate is increasing. As a nation with the world’s largest economy, we can do better. Hence, we need to examine what the top nations in elder well-being have achieved. Also, if our society challenges our conventional views on aging, our ranking can significantly improve.

Changing Aging, a multi-blog platform, is leading the movement to fight ageism. The platform believes aging is a strength, rich in developmental potential and growth. In the U.S., people 65 and older numbered nearly 40 million in 2009, about 13 percent of the population. By 2030, that number is projected to grow to over 72 million, double the number in 2000. If our society ignores the current attitudes towards aging, ageism and elder well-being will worsen for future generations.

Capture1 Perhaps we can start by emulating Hollywood actress Mary Steenburgen who does not have a problem with age. Steenburgen adds, “We don’t want to be reminded that life ends at some point, so they don’t put older people on the screen. The flip side of that is if it’s so terrible, then why should anyone live another day?” Aging is not a death sentence. Instead, aging should be embraced. The elderly and their vast knowledge are a significant boon for our society.