Our local newspaper carries a Sunday comic strip called For Better or For Worse. Two of the main characters are a couple in their 50’s. After visiting the man’s father who has had a stroke the woman says to her husband, "I wonder which one of us will become dependent first". They end the strip with a nice sentiment determining that if one of them becomes so memory impaired that they don’t remember each other they would have to fall in love over and over.
This strip clearly illustrates internalized ageism. Instead of asking, "I wonder what we will do IF one of us becomes dependent", she makes the assumption that they will become dependent and it is just a question of which one first. Internalized ageism can have a powerful influence on an individuals aging experience. For example, a person who starts to lose the ability to perform basic daily activities determines it is "normal" to be frail as they get older and fails to take action to improve strength, balance, coordination, mobility. Family members watching an older adult become increasingly frail fail to respond, the doctor fails to respond, all because internalized ageism paints a picture where age = decline until dependence and death.
What if we all believed that aging with vitality and purpose was a probability rather than just a possibility? Wouldn’t we then start responding to decline in an entirely new way? Viewing symptoms of physical decline as a condition that needs to be diagnosed and treated would result in an entirely different outcome than just watching and waiting for the "inevitable" dependence to pull us under.
What messages do your personal beliefs play over and over in your mind about the probabilities and possibilities of aging well? If they are negative what are you doing to change your perceptions? What actions do you personally take each day to ensure aging well? When we consciously confront internalized ageism then we can start writing our own story about aging well in body, mind and spirit.