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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Can postponing ill-health via comprehensive damage repair extend human lifespan indefinitely?

On Tuesday, December 6, 2016, the Institute on Aging (IOA) welcomed Aubrey de Grey, PhD, Chief Science Officer at the SENS Research Foundation, for a Visiting Scholars Series lecture on “Rejuvenation biotechnology: Postponing ill-health via comprehensive damage repair.”

The SENS Research Foundation is a public charity doing biomedical research with a focus on developing new medicines that may be more effective than current methods in postponing the ill health of old age.

“I do think that the general concept of eliminating damage that the body does to itself is something in which the sky is the limit,” said Dr. de Grey.

He compared this idea to the example of restoring vintage cars. He explained that since we are able to keep cars going essentially forever just by periodic and comprehensive preventative maintenance, we should be able to do the same thing for the human body, ultimately maintaining people in “truly youthful health indefinitely.”

While he does recognize that the human body is much more complex, Dr. de Grey believes that “the further we get in the process of developing methods for eliminating the various types of damage that the body does to itself, the more slowly we will accumulate damage because we will only be left with the residual damage that we haven’t yet worked out how to fix.”

Watch Dr. de Grey’s full lecture here!

World Elder Abuse Awareness Day 2016

WORLD ELDER ABUSE AWARENESS DAY (WEAAD)

WEADD-Logo-RGBToday, June 15, 2016, organizations around the world are joining in the mutual effort to promote a better understanding of elder abuse and neglect of seniors “by raising awareness of the cultural, social, economic and demographic processes affecting elder abuse and neglect,” according to the National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA).

Every year an estimated 5 million older Americans are victims of elder abuse, neglect, or exploitation and experts believe that for every case reported, as many as 23 cases go unreported, explains NCEA.

By spreading awareness and increasing knowledge on elder abuse, you can help stop this vicious cycle. NCEA created a variety of guides, outreach tools, and fact sheets to share, including:

SUPPORT FOR SENIORS IN PHILADELPHIA

Locally, organizations in and around the Philadelphia area are doing their part to support the wellbeing of our aging community.

Philadelphia Corporation for Aging (PCA) Older Adult Protective Services

“In Philadelphia, all forms of elder abuse can be reported to PCA’s Older Adult Protective Services 24/7 by calling the PCA Helpline at 215-765-9040. In fiscal year 2015 (July 1, 2014 – June 30, 2015), PCA’s Older Adult Protective Services received 3,262 reports of suspected abuse, neglect and financial exploitation of older adults.”

Learn more at PCAcares.org

CARIE: Center for Advocacy for the Rights & Interests of the Elderly

CARIE’s mission is to “improve the well being, rights, and autonomy of older persons through advocacy, education, and action.” They offer a variety of resources including the “CARIE LINE” and “CARIE OnLINE” telephone and online consultation service, victim’s advocacy programs, transportation problems resolution, and help for people in nursing homes and personal care homes, to name a few.

Learn more at: www.carie.org

The Ralston Center’s Age Friendly West Philadelphia Initiative

“Ralston’s Age-Friendly West Philadelphia Initiative is a collaborative partnership of local and citywide stakeholders, convened and facilitated by Ralston Center, to create age-friendly changes in West Philadelphia.  The initiative is committed to making the physical and social environments in West Philadelphia more conducive to older adults’ health, well-being and ability to age in place.”

Learn more at: http://ralstoncenter.org/

Purposely Planning Your Encore (Retirement) Career

“You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.” – C.S. Lewis

On Monday, October 19, the Division of Human Resources and the Institute on Aging at the University of Pennsylvania welcomed Willo Carey, Manager of Donor Relations, WHYY, to present “Purposely Planning Your Encore (Retirement) Career” exclusively to Penn faculty and staff. The talk focused on changing the way that we think about retirement — rather than considering it the end of our career, we should think of it as the start of our new calling, or our “encore.” So many individuals put their true passions or interests on hold while they are busy focusing on their careers. With that in mind, Willo encourages taking advantage of this “second half of life” and using it as an opportunity to explore something new, discover who you really are outside of your job title, and to finding true fulfillment in your new daily routine.

For more motivation and ideas, visit WHYY’s Wider Horizons “Coming of Age” radio series. “Coming of Age” features dozens of inspiring stories from individuals in their “second half of life” who have found new interests and purpose outside of their previous careers.