I just returned from Las Vegas where I spoke at the International Conference on Active Aging.  This organization consists of professionals in senior living, fitness, and social service agencies seeking to increase opportunities for healthy aging. Check them out at www.icaa.ca    Las Vegas is interesting to say the least, but bizarre.  While the rest of the world is trying to increase "walkability" of neighborhoods and towns, every effort to walk outside was met with sidewalks that wound around and led you right back into the casinos!! 

Information abounded about a marketplace shift in response to the baby boomers.  With any luck (since there is now a financial incentive) we will start to see some significant changes in the media’s approach to mature adults. 

I just became aware of a very interesting conference called Being Ageless: A conference on lifelong health, vitality and meaning.  It is facilitated by the Omega Institute and being held in Fort Lauderdale, Florida from January 12-17, 2007.  There is a long list of speakers including internationally known Andrew Weil, Billie Jean King, and Maya Angelou. Check it out at www.beingageless.org

You’re 50, keep forgetting where you put your keys and are told you’re having "senior moments", start worrying about Alzheimers. Pull a muscle while playing a favorite sport and conclude you’re getting "too old" to play competitively, reduce activity accordingly. Have a birthday and receive a barrage of rude messages about aging like the card I recently found with a bunny on the front wrinkling its nose; stating inside, "I smell an old person".  Welcome to the world of ageism.

Contrast that with a 12 year old who regularly forgets his homework even after being reminded twice in 10 minutes, and the children and young adults who pull muscles and become sore from activity.  No-one suggests an evaluation for memory impairment or encourages giving up physical activity.  Replace "old" with a word describing any ethnic or religious group and the birthday card would immediately be recognized as highly offensive. 

The myth that aging equals an inevitable decline physically, mentally and socially inspires little motivation to make positive lifestyle choices.  Contrarily, extensive research clearly shows most declines associated with aging result directly from physical inactivity and other lifestyle choices.  Certainly there are unavoidable illnesses, but billions are spent each year on preventable medical expenses and million of older adults are robbed of their rightful place in society as leaders and role models for vital aging, largely due to the crushing momentum of negative aging stereotypes.

I’m tired of accepting negative stereotypes on television, comments from friends blaming reduced function on age, and blind acceptance of this negative story of aging that has been written for us by the media and youth oriented society.  For the next week take note of how many negative references you hear/read or say/think yourself linking aging with decline. Why are we allowing the marketing companies, magazines and youth to define what aging is??