We’re usually pretty up-beat around here, but I’ve got a nit to pick, and I think it’s time to share it. Here goes: I have been bothered by the obsession with ‘active aging’ by the healthcare/senior living/media/Hollywood/world-at-large for quite some time. I could never really put my finger on why it bothered me. Active aging, wellness, healthy and strong older adults – ALL GOOD! Right?
In my career I have had the opportunity to engage with and photograph all kinds of seniors doing all kinds of meaningful activities: creating art, drinking tea and reminiscing, playing cards, meditating, as well as those engaged in the large motor activities: playing golf, hiking in the woods, riding bikes. The image of ‘active aging’ for some reason has come to mean this later group of activities. “Post more dancing! Post more pickle ball!” It’s begun to feel offensive. Do the pickle ball players have more value than the senior using a wheelchair and learning about the life of Claude Monet? That’s a common message these centers are pushing, and it can be harmful.
We learn about serving the whole person, engaging in the 7 dimensions of wellness: Physical, emotional, social, intellectual, environmental, spiritual, vocational.
We’ve all heard the cry – ‘the baby boomers are coming to our communities and they are not going to want sit and play bingo.’ I agree, but you know what? – they are individuals that have worked, played, loved and aged. Let’s meet them where they are, for who they are. Let’s build them a big world to live in, one that encourages relationships and connections and cognitive growth – if that looks like riding bikes and square dancing, fantastic. But, and I suspect this might be true – if these are folks that are having some physical difficulties and want to live with dignity and respect in our communities, then we should put equal time and energy designing engaging opportunities for them as well.
Let our work show that you don’t have to be able to run a half-marathon to have value. I understand – there are some negative stereotypes of aging that need to be dispelled. We want everyone to see aging seniors as vital to a healthy society. But isn’t it just another kind of ageism to imply that only physically active seniors are worthy of dispelling those myths? Let’s highlight the great things going on in your Long Term Care community, like the Lifelong Learning topic that led to hosting a speaker from the Netherlands, or the Assisted Living community that partnered with a science class to learn about robotics, or the Memory Care community that spends time each day appreciating art and poetry. We can fight ageism in all its forms. Just by doing our jobs well. And that’s awesome, right?