I am, and always have been, positive about intergenerational connections, collaboration, living, learning, working, etc. A big component of our business is about helping organizations take advantage of their multi-generational workforces by turning them into productive, intergenerational teams. What I find disheartening is that we need a national day (Intergenerational Day) dedicated to raising awareness about the benefits of connecting across generations.
As a culture, we have become so age-siloed (new word) that we typically don’t have as many connections with those who are differently aged as us. In fact, some research shows that cities are becoming divided by age. It’s a strange evolution of behaviour when you consider that grandparents today are spending far more time with grandchildren than previous generations. Could it be because grandparents are living longer, healthier lives?
The American Association for Retired People (AARP) also has research to show that grandparents contribute quite a bit financially to their grandchildren. The multigenerational divide seems to happen when we move beyond familial relationships and the generations in between.
The problem doesn’t belong to any one generation. We have all grown up in a youth-obsessed culture where the experience and wisdom of an older generation aren’t valued and where media and tv images of the young reign supreme. These images accentuate the advantages of being young and youthful and view ageing as a disease to be conquered.
There is, however, a shift in the media industry; a slow and steady shift that is moving towards representing an older demographic in more positive ways. It makes sense. After all, which generation dominates demographically and which generation holds the purse strings?
When working recently with a youth council in Kuujjuaq, the youth invited an “elder” as a full participant of the group. It was unheard of to not to do so. When questions arose, young people often turned to the elder to ask for their advice. It was natural and normal, respectful with the understanding that longer life means more experience. This belief is venerated in many indigenous cultures. When did we (westerners) begin to move away from seeing experience as an advantage?
Research has proven that children who have had exposure to grandparents and other older relatives tend to have a more favourable view of ageing than those who had little connection with older adults. Other findings show: involved grandparents remain more mentally sharp; grandchildren learn first-hand the historical perspective about how things worked and how lives were lived in the past; and both older and younger benefit from more stable, emotional relationships with reduced depressive symptoms. Intergenerational relationships are a win-win in the personal and professional realms. It’s a shame these realities are not as well-known or recognized as they might be.
Interestingly, the Encore movement in the US has been focused on these intergenerational relationships for many years. The interventions of older adults as volunteers in the lives of younger school children has been proven to show positive gains for kids academically and behaviorally. For older adults, these connections have given them purpose and meaning.
Intergenerational Day in Canada is a novelty but it might encourage future positive interactions among all generations. I am genuinely looking forward to participating with Connected Canadians at Qlik from 10-12 on Saturday, June 1st. If you are interested in learning some digital literacy skills or finding out about the Top Sixty Over Sixty, join us from 10-12 at Qlik, 290 March Road, Kanata. Bring your digital devices to get the help you need and check out the iGen events portal to find other interesting opportunities.
I hope these new intergenerational interactions will provide the impetus to value all generations more equitably.
I wonder if any of you caught David Wimsett’s powerful essay on CBC Radio’s Sunday Edition with Michael Enright on January 25th? It was entitled, “64 and unemployed: One man's struggle to be taken seriously as a job applicant”. If you did, I hope you were as upset as I was. Hearing this man’s story was the epitome of what so many older adults experience and yet few people call out. His story reveals blatant ageism, the one remaining “ism” that hasn’t yet been addressed and will affect us all one day if we live long enough.
In brief, David is a 64 year old experienced and qualified man who has had a stellar employment record for 4 decades. He spends days and nights crafting his cover letters and resumes to meet the criteria of the job for which he is applying and he sometimes gets called in for an interview. Then, the shattering experience follows. No one says anything about his age or his experience but there is always an “acceptable” reason for not being the right fit. Age is never mentioned.
At this point he has been without work for so long that he has had to sell all his assets and is behind on all payments. He answers threatening calls from banks and creditors daily. He is experiencing deep emotional stress and feels isolated because he is ashamed to speak of his misfortunes. He has begun to question his abilities and self-worth and it is affecting his mental health as he realizes that he is heading for depression. Soon, not only his mental health will suffer but his general well-being will decline and he could become another lonely, older individual who depends on the government.
I can’t tell you how many times I hear a version of this story as I try to raise awareness about how pervasive ageism is. David is not a one off. He is the norm in a North American culture that is youth obsessed. Instead of valuing the assets that this generation of Boomers has on offer, their potential is often being minimized by so many of us who are unaware of what ageism is and of our own self-directed bias against ageing.
Are you conscious of your own bias? Try this quiz which will give you some insight into your beliefs and how they might be influencing you without you realizing it.
Not unlike a good wine, many of us over 60 improve as we age. We mellow out, become more compassionate and less competitive and generally have a broader perspective on life. We are interested in the well-being of future generations and have a desire to give back in one way or another.
Well, at long last, there seems to be increasing acceptance of this truth, especially as it pertains to older women. If any of you have watched the recent Golden Globes or seen the NY Times article on this topic, “I am (an Older) Woman. Watch me Roar”, you will understand why I say this.
When women over 60 gain power in positions that traditionally were held by men, the public begins to notice. In many ways it’s unfortunate that they have to gain acknowledgement in the public domain as “powerful” before anyone notices, but if it helps fight ageist bias against older women, I’ll take it.
This January has been an extraordinary start to what I believe will be a new movement. There’s a natural nexus with the women’s liberation and feminism movement of the 60s and 70s, the #Me Too movement and ageism. Nancy Pelosi at age 78 has become the most powerful elected woman in US history; Glenn Close, 71, won actress of the year for the Golden Globes; and Susan Zirinsky, 66, takes over CBC news in March.
These women are all terrific role models and will help start the conversation about how perceptions of age influence decisions that affect hiring, re-employment and general engagement of all older adults. It will help destigmatize some bias, but it isn’t and won’t be enough to penetrate other less privileged socio-economic groups.
It is incumbent on all of us to participate in breaking down these barriers in order to fulfill the real potential of older adults. Everyone has a role to play no matter how small. Starting conversations with younger folks, confronting older friends and relatives about their own internalized biases, and proclaiming with pride how old you are just a few ways to combat the negative understanding of what it means to age.
When my 21/2 year old little grandson started crying when his mother referenced growing up and getting older, he whimpered: ”I don’t want you to get old, mommy, and I want to stay a little boy”. Where does this perception come from so early in life? Obviously, we have to start this conversation at a very young age.
It’s time to change misperceptions about our elders and the ageing process. It’s also time that we begin to own the problem and challenge it personally, with friends, family and in the workplace.
We tend to be unconscious of our own bias against older people, often thinking that the designation of “senior” or “older person” doesn’t refer to us but to “them”. In fact, most healthy people who are over 60 still consider themselves very much younger than their chronological age. The reflection in the mirror does not tell how we perceive our own ages.
Here are some ideas that will help build confidence and defy the notion of your “best before” date:
Don’t shy away from questions about your age. Embrace it and let whoever is interested know the actual number of years you have been around. Be proud of getting to this point in your life and avoid feeling less than adequate.
Change the question about age from “how old are you” to “what is your age”?
Interact frequently with children, youth and adults of other generations, including those older than you.
Move outside your comfort zone and feel the exhilaration of a new experience.
Role-model how satisfying this stage of life can be by talking about the many exciting opportunities you now have.
Foster awareness of ageing with young children so that they don’t fear it themselves. When children as young as 4 are asked if they want to grow old, they tend to reply negatively.
Invite longevity awareness in schools.
Redefine your life course by engaging rather than being enraged.
Take a later in life “Gap” Year or return to university or college to take other courses.
Try out new and different hair styles.
When you forget something, don’t refer to it as a “senior” moment. This just reinforces the misperception that older folks are more forgetful than younger people. Our brains are plastic but like hard drives in computers, they sometimes reach capacity.
I wonder how many of us realize that the impact of loneliness as we age is the equivalent of smoking 15 cigarettes daily? Or that by the year 2050, 30% of Canada’s population will exceed 60 years of age? These realities have enormous implications for us as individuals and as a society.
Loneliness is extended solitude. Unlike solitude, however, which is often a conscious choice, loneliness usually results from some kind of loss --- personal, physical, professional or societal. Obviously, with age, we see friends and family pass away. What compounds this loss is the demise of the nuclear family. Children are as mobile as their devices and frequently live far away from their older relatives.
Add to these realities the once revered notion of retirement. Unwittingly, retirement often adds to a sense of isolation. Retirement was meant to be that time when we would be able to focus on travel, our hobbies or other enjoyable pursuits. Instead, retirement often signifies the loss of a network of colleagues and friends who are difficult to replace and who intentionally, or not, contributed to a sense of community. It is this sense of togetherness, unity, the social connectedness that is often missing post retirement and the resulting loneliness is one of the most significant contributors to failing health: specifically, heart disease, dementia and diabetes.
If our culture valued our elders for their numerous contributions instead of exclusively revering youth, individuals who once felt positively about themselves might feel more confident about engaging more in meaninful ways. It’s the diminished value that older people experience that makes them vulnerable to a loss of self-esteem, feeling positive about themselves and what they once were able to contribute to society. Their sense of purpose and meaning is questioned by a society that advertises remedies for aging instead of viewing older people as having something to offer.
Ageism (negative stereotyping based on age) is baked into our DNA the way sexism once was. It is so deeply embedded in our language and our psyche that even older adults have internalized the negative impressions that are inherent in ageist comments. We are unaware ourselves.
Ashton Applewhite expresses it better than anyone: “It's not the passage of time that makes it so hard to get older. It's ageism, a prejudice that pits us against our future selves -- and each other." Ashton Applewhite urges us to dismantle the dread and mobilize against the last socially acceptable prejudice. "Aging is not a problem to be fixed or a disease to be cured," she says. "It is a natural, powerful, lifelong process that unites us all."
To avoid the harmful effects of isolation consider the following:
Talk to Family and Friends: Reach out to family and friends every day, even if only by phone. Don’t be a reluctant to use technology to connect; virtual connections are also good for you.
Get a Pet: From small birds to big dogs, pets provide wonderful company.
Stay Fit: Get some exercise! Not only is it good for your mental health and contribute to your self-image, it can also involve social engagement.
Join a Club: Look for a club or Meet-Up of interest to you. Volunteer for an organization you find interesting.
Access Transportation: If you don’t have a car or access to transportation, reach out to your Local Health Integration Network and ask about transportation for the elderly (http://www.lhins.on.ca).
Start a Business or Not-for-Profit: if you can’t find a club or organization that you want to become part of, start one!
For one of the best TED talks and 11 minutes and 37 seconds that you might spend, I’d suggest listening to this.
Nobody who knows me would describe me as Pollyanna-like. I am definitely a realist and not naïve when it comes to understanding why aging is such a complex issue. I am negatively disposed, however, to all the pessimism around aging (ageing) and find myself more and more inclined to be contrary and exclaim the virtues of aging--- positively.
Here’s a helpful definition of the concept provided by the Australian Psychological Society. “Positive ageing is a term used to describe the process of maintaining a positive attitude, feeling good about yourself, keeping fit and healthy, and engaging fully in life as you age.”
When you dissect this definition, there are tips that are useful to all of us. Most of these factors, other than perhaps chronic health issues, are within our control or are directly influenced by how we approach life and live it.
Stay connected with friends and family and find ways to develop new meaningful relationships. Surround yourself with those who love you or those who make you feel good about yourself. Avoid those relationships that undermine your self-esteem and self-worth. According to some studies, those of us who at age 50 see ourselves in a positive light live up to 7.5 years longer.
Continue to learn, study, play new games, think! Our minds and our brains do not shrink or stagnate. This has been disproved with brain research on neuroplasticity. The brain is constantly rewiring itself and is not hard-wired the way we once thought. Through social connections and physical exercise and keeping up mentally, we can slow the decline of cognition by 5-10 years.
Maintain health and fitness. Notwithstanding chronic debilitating illness, physical exercise helps preserve your balance and mobility, sustains your mental capacity, brings a more optimistic outlook. Through strength training, you can also reduce the loss of muscle mass.
Adopt a positive mindset. Find ways to feel good about yourself and what you do. Make conscious choices about which places you visit and the activities you do. Ensure that you enjoy doing these rather than engaging in unpleasant situations. Reducing stress levels is critical to positive aging because stress may affect your immune system and cause illness. It also affects mental acumen.
Aging positively is about the quality of your life not the quantity although science now supports that a positive mindset will affect longevity as well. The Top 60 Over 60 is about creating that dynamic learning community that engages its members, builds new relationships, creates new ventures and enterprises all within a positive supportive environment.
Agism can impact who you know, what you do and how you do it. Here are some tips for identifying and managing ageism.
The effects of agism on businesses can range from lost productivity, lost potential and lost workers. The effects on directly impacted workers can include negative social, psychological and economic outcomes. In short, ageism harms us all.
What is agism?
Agism is stereotyping and discrimination on the basis of a person’s age. It is one of the last “isms” left to eradicate. It is isolating, alienating, damaging to a sense of purpose and general well-being and it has also been proven to shorten lives.
Agism applies equally to the belief that one might be “too young” to do something but in our western, youth-obsessed society, the “too old” are typically those that get short shrift.
Examples of agism
Getting fired from a job because of age.
Being turned down for car or travel insurance or being refused an interest free credit card due to age.
Receiving poor service in a store because of the management’s attitude towards older people.
Being rejected for membership in a club or association because of age.
Although agism is frustrating it can be managed. Here are a few tips for combatting ageism.
Enjoy your age. By embracing yourself you set a positive attitude and example for others to follow. The first step to acceptance, for anyone, is accepting yourself.
Take opportunities to be part of intergenerational activities. Over the last few years, we have seen an increasing level of segregation by age. It is an unhealthy approach for all of us, both economically and emotionally and is one of the central contributors to agism.
Don't use age to tease. Avoid "funny" jokes that talk about being over the hill or being past prime or other negative language such as, "senior moments".
Watch your language. By continually referencing the differences between your age and others you could inadvertently reinforce bias. For instance, expressions like, "back in my day..." imply that your day is over.
Don't accept agism. If someone uses agist language or references on you, then call them on it. Suggest alternatives or tell them that you would prefer they not reference you that way.
The Top 60 over 60, works to eradicate agism, recognize and celebrate the accomplishments of older adults. Intergenerational learning and collaboration are at the heart of what we do.