Whether it is through the media, our culture or our daily conversations, members of the aging population are often disrespected in our society. They are ridiculed as being ineffective and are often the butt of jokes. You know the wisecracks. “Don’t drive like a Green Valley grandma” or other remarks criticizing older adults as being “technically” challenged.
Prejudice against the aging is real and it has a name. It is described as “ageism.”
Ageism happens when people are defined not by their personality, individuality or beliefs, but by their age. Older adults are often seen as incompetent, dependent and debilitated, and sometimes like children who need caring. Ageist prejudice applies assumptions about people based on their inclusion in the group “older adults.”
Aging is a highly individualized and complex process; yet it continues to be stereotyped.
According to Leading Age, a group that advocates for not-for-profit providers and the seniors they serve, not one of us is defined by just one characteristic. We have multiple intersecting identities and experiences that make each individual complex and unique.
For those who are certified caregivers or those individuals looking after loved ones, countering ageism requires we recognize the multifaceted nature of each person and use that insight with the goal of providing individual person-centered care and not adhere to “one size fits all.”
Kelly O’Shea, corporate director of Memory Care Services at Acts Retirement-Life Communities Inc. in Allentown, PA, suggests that caregivers attempt to understand the individual’s life history, preferences, as well as their strengths and weaknesses in health and mind, helping to provide a richer quality of care.
O’Shea says that when we know each person as a complex and unique individual, we possess the keys to tapping their underlying potential and gain a roadmap toward enhancing their fullness of life.
“Unfortunately, all too often in aging services work, we unconsciously adopt ageist assumptions about the older adults we serve,” O’Shea says. “Because we have knowledge about various diagnoses, we think we know what is best for each person under our care.”
O’Shea says that although caregivers’ ageist assumptions can help with work efficiency, they can also hinder the caregiver, blinding them to “the immense beauty associated with the complexities of identity and experience that lie within each person and limits insight into their needs.”
“Those who are committed to person-centered care should be particularly willing to embrace this call,” O’Shea says. “Rejecting assumptions based on categories and doing the hard work of knowing each person we serve as a complex and unique individual is at the very heart of person centered care.”
Connect Green Valley is a monthly column by Posada Life Community Services and the Connect: Green Valley app providing information and solutions for people seeking life-enriching community services. This app is free and updated frequently by Green Valley community service providers. Visit www.posadalife.org for more information.