Age: When It Isn’t Just a Number

ageism keeps us from embracing the gift of growing older

Jennifer Speckien

A quick Google search of “anti-aging” gives you 13.6 million results. The entire first page of results includes things like anti-aging diets, anti-aging skin creams, etc. – a plethora of consumer goods, tips, and tricks to avoid the perception “aging.”

By labeling forgetfulness as a “senior moment” we devalue the older person and create an image that all older people are forgetful, which just isn’t true.

In my opinion, when one searches Google for “anti-aging,” the very first result should be ageism. Ageism is a prejudice on the grounds of someone’s age – or, to put it another way, anti-aging is to be against aging. If you think about it, we should all be pro-aging. If we aren’t aging, that really means that we are no longer living. Every single day we all age. It is a gift that should be embraced.

As a society we have made a lot of assumptions about what it is like to grow older. Unfortunately, many of those assumptions come with negative connotations which create these prejudices. We have also made these prejudices acceptable, to some degree, by buying the anti-aging product or laughing at the aging jokes. Until we start seeing these things as harmful, ageism will continue to exist, harming the largest growing demographic of people in this country today.

A perfect example of ageism and its ripple effects comes with notion of memory loss. We hear things all the time like “Oh, I had a senior moment” to describe forgetfulness. The problem is we are all forgetful at some point in our lives: When we are children, we forget things; when we are teenagers, we forget things; when we are adults, we forget things. It happens. By labeling forgetfulness as a “senior moment” we devalue the older person and create an image that all older people are forgetful, which just isn’t true. Things like this then create challenges for those who truly are experiencing memory impairment from seeking treatment or telling their friends that they were diagnosed with dementia. And the thing is, people can acquire dementia at really any adult stage of life. We see people diagnosed in their 30s, 40s, and 50s on an all-too-regular basis.

If this article is moving you to do something different, I would highly encourage you to seek out the book Disrupt Aging by Jo Ann Jenkins. There are so many opportunities that exist because people are living longer lives. This book talks about our need as a society to embrace aging and all that it has to offer. Another great book is This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism by Ashton Applewhite.

Really, what this all boils down to is valuing all of the members of society for what they have to offer. You shouldn’t sell anyone short just because they are older than you. It is about each of us taking the opportunity to care for ourselves in a way that we can maximize our time here on earth with quality years. It is all about living.

So the next time you go to buy a birthday card for someone, pick the card that is uplifting and positive to celebrate their years instead of the one with the bad over-the-hill joke. Or when you go to pick out their birthday balloons, steer clear of black. Set your prejudice aside and start seeing aging for the amazing gift that it is!

Jennifer Speckien is director of the Aging and Disability Resource Center of Eau Claire County.