How we talk about aging, older adults and ageism makes a difference.
Douglas County — like the rest of Colorado and the United States — is becoming older, a result of advances in health and science, as well as declining birth rates.
Experts know that aging is normal, and can be a great time of growth and contribution to our communities and to the economy. For example, research shows that older workers tend to be more loyal and more motivated to exceed expectations, and have higher levels of engagement, better communication skills and stronger networks of professional contacts than their younger counterparts. Additionally, intergenerational work teams in an organization offer substantial benefits, including older adults mentoring and sharing their knowledge with younger workers and improving team problem-solving and creativity.
Yet negative stereotypes about older people and ageism — discrimination based on age — can get in the way of our communities realizing this “experience dividend.”
Changing the Narrative in Colorado is an initiative to change the way Coloradans talk, think and act about aging, older adults and ageism. Our goals are to encourage policies and practices that allow and encourage older adults to be involved, and to ensure that all communities across the state are great places to age in. A partnership of NextFifty Initiative and Rose Community Foundation, Changing the Narrative is offering workshops and presentations on research-based messages and language that has been proven to shift public thinking about older adults and about aging, to decrease ageism and to increase support for policies that allow all of us to thrive as we age.
So why do we need to change the narrative about aging and older people? Here are three reasons:
• The current stories that we hear in the media portray getting older as a time of decline and deterioration, and ignore the very real contributions that all of us can make as we age. Older people are often portrayed as “takers” who will bankrupt the economy, when the reality is that 42 percent of the state’s GDP is contributed by people ages 50-plus.
• The persistence of these stereotypes often leads to workplace discrimination. A national study released in December found that 56 percent of people who had entered their 50s with stable employment were pushed out or laid off. At the same time, many companies in Colorado are desperate for workers to sustain their growth and our overall economy. Investing in and retaining older workers, instead of discriminating against them, is a way we can keep our economy strong.
• Finally, we know that having positive attitudes about aging also gives us a longevity boost. Another study found that people who think positively about aging live on average 7.5 years longer than those who have a negative view.
A national research effort sponsored by the eight leading aging organizations and conducted by The FrameWorks Institute found that there are specific stories that we can share (or avoid) that help people better understand the assets that older adults are to the community. These same stories also increase the likelihood that our neighbors will support the kinds of policies and programs that allow people to age in community.
We have an opportunity in Douglas County and in Colorado to be pioneers in advancing new stories and language, to create an environment in which all of us can continue to live healthy and productive lives as we age.
Janine Vanderburg is with Changing the Narrative in Colorado. For additional information, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
This column is hosted by the Seniors’ Council of Douglas County. Please join us for our next meeting on April 4 at Douglas County Park Meadows Center, Commissioners’ Meeting Room Lower Level, 9350 Heritage Hills Circle, Lone Tree. Our presentation/workshop and community conversation will begin at 10:15 a.m. Janine Vanderburg will be our guest speaker and will be presenting on Changing the Narrative. For more information, go online to MyDougCoSeniorLife.com, email DCSeniorLife@douglas.co.us or call 303-663-7681.
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