The Assumptions of Aging: Addressing the Myths and Stereotypes Associated with Getting Older

On Thursday, April 13, 2017, the Philadelphia Corporation for Aging (PCA)* held a daylong training course titled “Assumptions of Aging,” led by Kathy Jedrziewski, PhD, Deputy Director of the Institute on Aging (IOA) at the University of Pennsylvania.

The purpose of this training was to address and debunk some of the common myths and stereotypes that are often associated with the aging population. Participants in the course ranged from social work coordinators and senior counselors to service coordinators from PCA and other local senior service centers. While this goes for the general public as well, it is especially important for individuals in these lines of work to understand and differentiate between the truths of aging and the negative labels that often overshadow in the elderly community so that they can provide the level of service — and respect — that seniors need and deserve.

After an ice-breaker introductory exercise, the group took turns sharing some of the common aging-related stereotypes that they have heard or experienced themselves. Some of the most frequently mentioned ideas were:

  • Older people are not good with technology
  • Romance is only for the young
  • All older people are weak and sickly
  • Older people cannot maintain the same hobbies, activities, or social life that they had when they were younger
  • Older people with disabilities are helpless and useless

Debunking Some of the Myths:

  • Older people are not good with technology:
    One of the most common misconceptions about the aging community is that they do not know — or cannot learn — how to use technology. While it may take older individuals a bit longer than the younger generation (a generation who has grown up using, and often depending on, technology) to pick up on the latest devices, they are not incompetent or unable to do so. Many older adults actually enjoy learning the latest technology and internet trends as it provides a way to stay engaged and in touch with the ever evolving means for communicating and consuming information (i.e. social media). In fact, according to Pew Research Center, 56% of U.S. online users ages 65 and up use Facebook.
  • Older people cannot maintain the same hobbies, activities, or social life that they had when they were younger
    As people age, they often feel pressure from their peers, relatives, and even from themselves to re-evaluate and restrict their idea of what is “appropriate” for them. Whether it is a choice in clothing, a physical hobby such as sports or exercise, or even something as personal as dating or physical intimacy, older adults often think or hear that they are “too old for that.” However, if an individual is still physically and mentally capable, their age alone should never determine what they can or cannot do.
  • Older people with disabilities are helpless and useless
    One of the most important things to understand about an individual with a disability is that it does not define them as a person. It is a common myth that individuals, particularly seniors, with disabilities need to be completely catered to and treated as children, which in turn can strip them entirely of their sense of independence, and in some cases, their self-worth. It is important for family members, caregivers, and others to understand that as long as the individual is still cognitively and/or physically capable of doing something — whether it is making their own decisions or taking part in normal day-to-day activities — they should be given the opportunity, and respect, to do so.

Instead of addressing these ideas through a lecture or notes, the participants were put into groups and asked to act out a series of scenarios that were based on many of these common myths and stereotypes of aging. Each scenario was followed by an open discussion among all of the participants to share their thoughts and feelings on how each character handled, or mishandled, each situation. This method of role-playing put the participants into the scenarios in a more hands-on way — showing them the effects of these stereotypes in a much more personal and relatable manner.

“I love doing this training at PCA twice a year,” said Dr. Jedrziewski, leader of the training session. “It gives me a chance to meet staff from across the aging network who are doing such important work, impacting lives every day and hopefully I give them some tools to work with.”


* PCA is a private nonprofit organization serving the Philadelphia area with a broad range of services to help older Philadelphians live as independently as possible. In addition to providing training programs to individuals working in aging-related fields, they also offer serves such as advocacy programs, coordinating in-home care, legal assistance, and home-delivered meals. It is the largest of 52 Area Agencies on Aging in Pennsylvania and assists more than 134,000 individuals through its PCA Helpline each year. 

For more information on PCA and their services, visit: www.pcacares.org

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