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Take a stand against ageism, see life’s journey through familiar faces

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Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “Beautiful young people are accidents of nature, but beautiful old people are works of art.” This could not be truer.

While many people recognize the value older adults bring to our society, sadly there are many people who do not. These people poke fun at them and use their age as a handicap, when in fact it is anything but.

Ageism is defined as discrimination against people on the grounds of age; specifically, discrimination against the elderly. Cultural and social age discrimination is pervasive in this country.

Ageism is a hurtful form of bias that affects everyone in society. Living a long full life is a privilege. It is important to create a community that respects old age and continues to consider people as unique individuals even as they age, rather than marginalize them into negative stereotypes.

Older adults are often ridiculed, ignored or not taken seriously due to their age.

In addition to being extremely hurtful and humiliating, expressions of ageism can have severe detrimental effects on the health and wellbeing of older adults. Seniors with positive self-perceptions of aging live longer and experience significantly better memory and balance. As San Diego’s workforce ages and older adults stay in their careers, it is extremely important to create and maintain an inclusive environment free of ageism in the workplace.

This is a call to action for seniors and the people who love them to take a stand and fight against ageism.

Gone are the days when seniors sit on the sidelines and let the young take the reins. Today’s seniors advocate on their own behalf. They are reinventing society’s idea of what it means to “grow old.” Seniors today carry cell phones, not walkers. They sit on bicycles, not rocking chairs. Arts and crafts, bingo and checkers have been replaced with jogging, whitewater rafting and skiing.

Seniors are healthy, vibrant, influential members of our society. And often are launching second (or third) careers.

According to a Duke University survey of individuals 60 and older, 84 percent of participants reported experiencing some form of ageism.

The most common form of ageism, reported by 58 percent of the participants, was being told a joke that stereotypes and pokes fun at older people. Thirty one percent reported being ignored or not taken seriously due to their age.

These shocking statistics reinforce the importance of taking a stand against ageism. As boomers, we have the opportunity to educate our friends, family and acquaintances on the harmful effects of what they might consider to be lighthearted or good-natured joking comments.

When you hear terms such as “geezer,” “crotchety,” “granny,” or “senile,” tell the person who said it that the term is hurtful and stereotypical. This type of language is often rooted in a misunderstanding of the realities of aging. So many people assume that with aging automatically comes handicaps and frailty.

It is also important to speak out in your community when you see evidence of ageism.

If you take offense to the headline of a journal article or the content of a news segment concerning an older person, write a complaint to the offending media outlet. If a friend makes an ageist comment, do your best to educate them and help them correct their viewpoint on older adults as well.

Likewise, if you work in an office setting, be mindful of workplace bullying and older adults. Taunts such as “You are too old to keep up” or “You should just retire” may be funny to some, but they can be hurtful.

Respect those who are working with you no matter what their age may be, and take a stand for yourself or a co-worker if you hear unkind remarks.

In an effort to highlight senior wisdom and the treasures a lifetime can share, Senior Community Centers hosts “Notes to our Sons & Daughters” on Thursday, Oct. 11, at 6 p.m. The stylized black and white photographic exhibition artfully directed by famed photographer and Escondido resident Philipp Scholz Rittermann, features more than 30 diverse members of the San Diego community with emphasis on the wisdom of their life’s journey.

The event is sponsored by The Daily Transcript and the honorary event chair is Darlene M. Shiley. The mistress of ceremonies is actress Marion Ross, best known as the mother from the television series, “Happy Days.” Individual tickets are $150 for general admission and $250 for VIP. Tickets can be purchased at www.servingseniors.org.

Lastly, I encourage you to take a moment to get to know an older adult. The wisdom and history they can share with you will by far outweigh any book you will ever pick up. Understand the culture they were born of, the economic challenges they faced in their life, and how they got to where they are today. You will be surprised that you will walk away with more useful knowledge than you had before.

Our older generation should be our most treasured and beloved citizens. Youth are our future, but seniors are our legacy. Let us honor them and treat them with the respect they deserve.

Downey is the president and CEO of Senior Community Centers, a nonprofit agency dedicated to increasing the quality of life for San Diego seniors living in poverty. Learn more at servingseniors.org.

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