“You are the oldest you have ever been, and tonight, when you go to bed you will be the youngest you’ll ever be,” said Janine Vanderburg in remarks that opened a three-hour workshop, “Changing the Narrative,” at the Chilson Senior Center in Loveland on Dec. 5.
With sponsorship from the Rose Community Foundation and the Nextfifty Initiative, the workshop drew a capacity crowd made up of people who work with organizations geared toward addressing older adult issues and citizens interested in changing society’s perception of those who are no longer young.
Discriminatory incidents are common, often unintentional, and grow out of a youth-focused culture. Often unintentionally, older adults experience feeling invisible, talked down to, made to feel incapable and even ignored.
Vanderburg prefaced her remarks by promising that the facts she was about to share were research-based. A handout brochure cited 32 sources. “Changing the Narrative,” subtitled “Ending Ageism. Together,” is a Colorado-based initiative committed to shifting public opinion and changing policies and practices by encouraging talking, thinking and writing differently about older adults. “Language is important,” she insisted. “The words we use make a difference.” She’s an advocate of banishing the “senior” word in favor of “older adult” or simply being specific and using terms such as “55 and up or 55 and better.”
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There’s a demographic shift underway. By 2035, older adults are predicted to outnumber children in the United States for the first time in history. Fertility rates are declining and people are living longer. These trends are changing society. A graphic comparing the U.S. population in 1960 and 2060 adapted from the U.S. Census Bureau tells the story. In 1960, the graphic looked like a pyramid, with very few people living beyond age 85. In 2060, the pyramid has become a column with many more people living to age 85 and beyond.
“We should celebrate old age,” Vanderburg said. “It’s normal. It happens to everyone and under the right circumstances, it can become an opportunity for growth and a time to make a contribution to society.”
In an effort to help attendees become aware of the messages that can shift the public’s thinking and speaking about elders to decrease age bias, she offered five stories that should no longer be told. These included talking about super seniors, seniors in need of sympathy, ageism as a civil rights issue, stories about demographic change without solutions, and terms such as ‘silver tsunami.’ “Sometimes it is as easy as a simple tweaking or the use of different words,” she said.
The workshop included interactive exercises in which small groups came together to express ideas and then presented them to the group. Discussion was lively.
Colorado’s 65-plus population is the third-fastest growing in the U.S. and adults age 50 and over in the state provide 42 percent of contributions to Colorado’s GDP. These facts place Colorado in a good position to become a leader in promoting longevity in the workplace. According to a 2017 forum, a shortage of talent is affecting companies’ ability to grow in our state. Adding older adults to the workplace can offer a solution.
Older adults these days are healthier, better educated and more tech savvy than ever before, and they can offer benefits to both co-workers and employers.
Whether we like it or not, all of us are aging. The issue is universal. The Nextfifty Initiative and Changing the Narrative are working to enhance everyone’s later years by addressing discrimination and encouraging productive aging.
Workship participants thinking it over.