A Senior Housing Forum post brought an issue forward that I’ve been yelled at in conferences for even bringing up!  Resident prejudice against those with disabilities and the SL Industries complacency.  It’s far past time for senior living to just say NO to disability discrimination. Besides being an ADA issue for communities (lawsuits are being filed and won), it underscores a prejudice that SL has enabled for fear that potential residents won’t move in if the “see” frail residents. You would not allow residents to insist that no-one of a different race or religion should be allowed in the dining room so why allow disability discrimination?  I know residents can be very vocal about this issue, but the world has changed and age is no excuse to be inappropriate!

SL can drive change when it: 1- invests in strategic initiatives to create not just socialization, but connection and community among residents of all abilities/disabilities (i.e. working together on purpose-projects in the broader community), 2- makes it clear from DAY ONE that every resident is valued equally and treated equally (i.e. marketing professionals proudly declare how inclusion supports their mission statements), 3- embraces the disability movement model of providing adaptive strategies to overcome disabilities and live fully in-spite of challenges (rather than strategies to merely “cope” with disabilities), 4-confronts disability discrimination head-on with residents, families, and staff (have policies in place to address issues).

There is a great video at Real Beauty Sketches (Dove) focused on how women see themselves compared to how others see them.  It really made me wonder what the results would be if this project was done with older adults.  Would they focus on outward signs of aging?  Would others?  I remember when I was in my 40’s and starting to “worry” about wrinkles.  At the time I was directing the Young at Heart exercise program for older adults at MSU, and it occured to me that when I looked at the members – most 70+ years old – I didn’t see wrinkles, I saw smiling eyes and faces of friends.  How would you describe yourself to someone sketching you without looking at you?  What do you see when you look at others? How do images of aging impact self perceptions and perceptions of others.

I'm happy to report that the fight against ageism got both a boost and a spotlight last week! I recently co-wrote a chapter titled, Media Portrayal of Ageing, for a book published by the Global Council on Ageing. The book, Global Ageing, Peril or Promise?, was launched at the Global Economic Summit in Davos, Switzerland on January 26th, and Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organization called it a "must read".

See below (News & Updates) to download a pdf of the whole book or download the chapter Media Portrayal of Ageing. The chapter explores how ageism got a foothold in society and how media and marketing images reinforce negative stereotypes that influence health beliefs and behaviors. It also offers some practical solutions for confronting and re-scripting the negative story of aging.

The "X" Factor
Age has less to do with who a person is and what they're capable of than almost any other single factor, yet it often becomes a direct or indirect barrier to an individual reaching his or her personal potential.

For example, consider that young people with disabilities receive resources, opportunities and social support to overcome disabilities and excel in spite of them. Yet adults who are challenged with a disability later in life are often simply given tools to cope with disabilities. There's a profound difference between a mindset of coping with, versus overcoming, challenges – one that directly impacts expectations, interactions and outcomes.

The successes of the disability movement come from their mindset of looking at possibilities rather than disabilities. As individuals and as a society, we can work for the same kind of positive change in expectations and opportunities for older adults challenged by functional limitations.

"I believe the health care crisis is not going to be solved by government programs," Kay continues, "but instead by individuals inspired into action for their own well-being, and by companies worldwide who mobilize resources to reach out to their customers with healthy lifestyle strategies."

Right now there is a contest at MORE magazine (for women over 40) that asks women to state why 40+ is the best time of their lives. I've really enjoyed reading the essays because they show that, while the overall cultural attitude towards aging hasn't changed much, individual people are realizing the power they have to stay healthy and active for their whole lifespan. It's great to see people embracing their ability to age well through healthy lifestyles and positive expectations. Every voice who rejects the negative myths of aging adds to the new "chorus" of adults who are proving that attitudes, expectations and actions drive outcomes – not just the passage of time.