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AGEISM IS A SOCIAL ISSUE

Submitted By:  Tracy M. Thornton, County Extension Agent for Family & Consumer Sciences, Source: Amy Hosier, UK family life extension specialist

 Approximately 40 million Americans are age 65 and over, a number projected to more than double by 2030 due primarily to the baby boomer generation. Baby boomers are the post-World War II babies born worldwide between 1946 and 1964. In America, they represent 29 percent of the population. In 2011, the first of the boom reached the retirement age of 65. This group of adults represents an estimated 1.2 million Kentuckians.

 Despite the numbers and the fact that everyone ages, society and the media value youth; both influence and reinforce negative attitudes toward unfair prejudices against aging and older adults. Greeting cards are a great example of negative stereotyping: youth and its milestones are glorified; aging is belittled, generally portrayed as a path leading to senility, frailty and dependence. Creams and cosmetic surgeries also glorify youth. Children grow up learning that older people are fragile, wear glasses, have gray hair, ride in wheel chairs and live in nursing homes. Jokes poke fun at aging and memory loss and physical impairments.

 Portrayed as dependent, helpless, unproductive and demanding, ageism, the negative stereotyping of age, can negatively affect mental health and well-being.

 Raising awareness about ageism is important. For example, understanding that the majority of older adults are independent, creative individuals who have time and talent to give to society will strengthen families and communities. Many, if not most, aging adults live full lives, managing their own finances, conducting their personal and medical affairs and maintaining independence. And because of sheer numbers, their buying power is considerable; they have needs and concerns that are very different from younger generational groups.

Our aging population faces distinct challenges:

    * There are currently a limited number of geriatric specialists, and the predicted shortfall may impact care in future years.
     * Increased consumer products and services will be needed to accommodate the particular needs of the growing aging population.
    * Significant and under-recognized health issues, such as falling and fear of falling, are topics that need more attention to help older adults remain healthy and independent.
    * Memory loss, dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease present a variety of challenges, and greater understanding of these disorders can lessen stigmas.
    * In a nation suffering from chronic disease, including obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancers, physical and mental health, nutrition and activity must be well managed to promote health and wellness.

 As America grays, ageism has an increased potential to escalate. Refraining from or reinforcing age bias and learning more about the truths of aging in addition to the issues that face aging individuals are essential to helping society age with confidence, self-worth, and mental healthiness.

For more information, contact the Butler County Extension Office at 113 East G L Smith Street, Morgantown or call 526-3767. Educational programs of the Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service serve all people regardless of race, color, age, sex, religion, disability, or national origin.

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