The rebellion began with a moment of small outrage. Bob and his wife were having dinner at their retirement community as a snowstorm headed toward Seattle. Bob worried about how staff were going to make it home, and he expressed his concern to the young gentleman serving him dinner. His server replied that he didn’t drive, but he would sleep over if necessary.
Bob said he’d be happy to drive the server home while the roads were still clear, but the young man indicated, “No, you can’t do that, I’m here to care for you.” Bob felt helpless, diminished, and “doomed to be on the receiving end,” rather than be recognized as someone who can help others.
These unintended indignities, often accompanied by a patronizing pat on the shoulder, are one of many ways older adults feel devalued. Too often, we take away people’s power, agency, and value as contributing members of society.
After hearing our resident’s story, our team at Bayview realized that if we do nothing to combat ageism, there will be no change. What actions could we take to change the way people think about aging and to fight the harmful effects of negative age stereotypes? Together, staff and residents created an anti-ageism task force that we call AgeUp, capturing the spirit of activism, ownership, and pride in our own aging—with an added spark of revolutionary energy.
AgeUp has a big vision: to create a world where the possibilities of aging are not limited by perceptions or expectations of the general public or among older adults themselves—a world where ageism does not exist, where older adults and “wise eldering” are valued and balanced equally with the contributions of other age groups. In essence, we seek to transform the possibility and perception of aging.
Our thoughts and feelings around aging are influenced by the images of aging we see. Of the few images of older adults in media, most reinforce negative stereotypes of aging. To get positive images in front of the public, our AgeUp task force investigated wrapping Seattle city buses with photographs of vibrant Bayview residents. We quickly realized we would need to start a little smaller and wrap our own Bayview bus first, so a photo of one of our beautiful residents now graces our 12-passenger van. A start!
As AgeUp launched our initiative to shift mindsets on aging, we realized we needed a partner to track and measure the impacts we hope to make. Dr. Michael Roe, a developmental psychologist at Seattle Pacific University, was intrigued with our campaign and wanted to develop an older adult research study for SPU’s developmental psychology program. He put together a team of student researchers and we were off and running.
The pilot study investigates “Attitudes, Well-Being, and Life Satisfaction Among Independently Living Older Adults.” It seeks to advance our understanding of the impacts of negative age-related stereotypes on quality of life for older adults; ways to counter such stereotypes; the impact of positive age-related perceptions and attitudes on quality of life for older adults; and proactive “engaged” programming to foster positive psychosocial development in late adulthood. Findings from this research will give us new insights and tools to improve the lives of all older adults.
The AgeUp newsletter includes research summaries and the latest findings from neuroscience, the benefits of a culture of giving, AgeUp Book Club recommended reads (see below), and what “aging up” is all about.
Our AgeUp website is another way we are spreading the message. A call to action asks what “AgeUp” means to our readers, populating it with their insights. See “My AgeUp is” on AgeUp.org to learn more.
AgeUp is already shifting mindsets. We recently won the 2018 United Methodist Association Innovation Award. We have more work to do, but we are Aging Up to the task!
Nancy Weinbeck has spent over 25 years in the field of aging, with an academic background in anthropology, gerontology, clinical psychology, and nonprofit management. She spent the last 17 years building an award-winning culture as director of residential operations at Bayview, a nonprofit Life Plan Community in Seattle.
Join the Revolution
You can sign up to receive the AgeUp newsletter at AgeUp.org
Here are some recommended AgeUp Book Club reads:
The Gift of Years by Joan Chittister
The Creative Age by Dr. Gene Cohen
The End of Old Age by Dr. Marc Agronin