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Intergenerational interactions great antidote for ageism

Ageism: “The stereotyping, prejudice and discrimination toward people on the basis of their age.” Some societies have strong traditions of respect for ancestors and older generations, but our society – not so much.

In this divided world with many beliefs, races, cultures, ages and attitudes we need to be respectful of each other. We seniors have experienced many things in life and are mostly aware of these inherent differences. Millennials do not have the same history and experiences as we do, and it is our responsibility to try and share our history and experiences with them. For instance, millennials usually prefer to communicate via text message and social media, whereas we still prefer face-to-face interaction.

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Some millennials have a negative notion of “elderly” as a drain on finite resources, which fuels ageism. It’s a view of elderly as dependent, rather than productive, a burden to be carried by the young.

Those of us who are older than 65 may be seen and characterized as “the Gray Horde” or “the Silver Tsunami.” This perception is fueled by certain segments of the media who refer to our earned benefits as “entitlements” for seniors. In my opinion these views couldn’t be further from the truth. We seniors are still productive members of society. We are also mentors who are more than willing to share our valuable life experiences and decades of hard earned knowledge.

It feels like longevity is a victory for which the world is not prepared. From 1900 to 2000, the average human life span increased by 30 years. In 2025, people over the age of 65 will out number children under the age of 13. This fact, combined with other changing population demographics is prompting a series of global and national initiatives to prepare for and respond to an aging society. Those 60 and older are the fastest growing segment of our population.

Still, negative stereotypes exist.

Our age diversity should be our strength, not pit us against each other. Exposure to age stereotypes begins in childhood. Negative age stereotypes may be perceived by young adults as producing advantageous discrimination socially or on the job. Such negative stereotypes can be harmful, while more positive images can be beneficial.

The good news is communities and organizations are trying to become more “age friendly.” Professionals are looking for ways to reframe aging and raise awareness. Schools are inviting seniors into classrooms and employers are introducing initiatives to improve multigenerational workplace interactions.

Intergenerational programs provide intentional opportunities for any skipped, non-adjacent generations to engage in activities that support the well-being of all involved. Research tells us that intergenerational programs are a vaccination against ageism and a prescription for longevity.

When professionals in the longevity field unite generations in strong programs, they:

  • Create opportunities for older adults to engage with young people. Intergenerational programs foster purpose and meaning, which can result in improved well being and friendships, curbing isolation across the life span.
  • Reverse ageism by exposing young people to positive stories about long vibrant lives, which has a ripple effect on families, organizations and communities.
  • Inspire young people to consider the possibility of entering careers that interact with older adults. After having experienced a rich relationship with someone 65 or older, youths are more likely to collaborate with and advocate for older adults in their lives.
  • Support young people’s academic development by extending classroom learning, as well as social-emotional development, especially with face-to-face communication skills.
  • Empower older adults to become advocates and champions for younger people, improving their lives and experiences, while stopping ageism against them.
  • Build and strengthen a culture in which people of all ages are welcome and supported.

For more information on intergenerational programs, refer to the article “Bridges together, The Missing Link in Today’s Aging Initiatives” written by Andrea J. Forte Weaver, Andrea Hunter and Beth Almeida.

“Growing older is a journey, and old age can be golden or rusty depending on your attitude.”

Stay positive, stay active and stay focused on what’s really important in your “Golden Years.”

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