Reframing Our Attitudes to Defeat Ageism

This article was adapted from a 2017 address to the staff of the Humboldt Senior Resource Center given by Connie Stewart.

Regardless of how you voted in the 2016 election — whether for Republicans in Washington or Democrats in California — we are in serious risk of policy inertia, or worse, rollbacks of existing supports for programs that help seniors in our community. That should be a concern to all of us. 

Democrat or Republican, we all age. So let’s face it — we need to change public thinking about aging in America.  

FrameWorks Institute, one of my favorite think tanks, recently released a report addressing ageism as a policy issue that touches on 1.) current public thinking, 2.) priorities for building public understanding on aging, and 3.) specific communication techniques that have been proven to expand people’s thinking about aging and aging policies.

FrameWorks is a Washington, D.C., think tank that “identifies, translates and models scholarly research to frame the public discourse on social problems.”They work with other nonprofits and philanthropies to listen to ordinary people and gain insight into how to influence thinking about some of the most important public issues of our time. 

In their project on aging, they worked with seven national aging organizations and eight foundations to conclude that America needs to redefine aging itself.

 “A public conversation is essential, as the aging of the population is one of the biggest demographic changes in recorded history,” the FrameWorks report says. “Whether this change will be a boon or bane depends on our nation’s policy response.”

We need to get rid of the “othering” of older people, a public attitude of “us vs. them” regarding aging. The FrameWorks research shows that most of us try to distance ourselves from aging, and have a “nothing can be done” attitude about improving aging outcomes.

Their report highlights how we must change the dialog from blaming individuals for their problems to explaining how social policies like tax policy and health policy, and social structures such as transportation and housing, can affect aging outcomes. 

I believe that if we regroup and work together, regardless of our personal and political beliefs, we have the power to make good decisions that will improve the lives of seniors locally, regionally, statewide and nationally. 

As the FrameWorks researchers say, “Reframing efforts must help people see aging as a continuous process and to recognize that older age, like any other time in life, involves both opportunities and challenges.”

Imagine a world where all the important programs that the Humboldt Senior Resource Center provides were a right, not a privilege, and where we all shared the goal of providing everyone of an older age with the services they need for new opportunities for growth, contribution, and self-expression.