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  • Writer's pictureNancy Griffin

Ageism in Senior Living

Updated: Aug 22, 2021

On Glowing Older, my weekly business podcast, I interview experts on innovation in senior living. For 40 episodes, I have interviewed the “crème de la crème” of senior living, wellness providers, authors, and activists, on topics ranging from senior housing and the merging of wellness and healthcare, to “age-tech” solutions for senior living communities and, most surprising to me, the challenges of ageism.

My eyes opened to this issue at the end of Season 2 of Glowing Older which featured Jill Vitale-Aussem, President & CEO of Christian Living Communities, a not-for-profit, faith-based organization serving more than 3,000 older adults. A fellow Cornell MMH (Master’s in Hospitality Management), Jill is the author of Disrupting the Status Quo of Senior Living: A Mindshift. In the interview, Jill reiterated the underlying theme in her book—ageism is the biggest problem in senior living. “Tackling ageism and ableism is the first step to make lasting change in any senior living community. Perceptions of aging as inevitable decline undermine opportunities for senior living operators, staff, and residents.” Jill also emphasized that 5-star hospitality can be detrimental to residents (A chapter of her book is titled “How May I Harm You.”) Residents need to be active citizens of their community, rather than guests at a resort being catered to. As the adage goes “use it or lose it.”

After several of my speakers referenced Ashton Applewhite as the expert of ageism, I knew I needed to read her book and invite her on the podcast. Her book This Chair Rocks, A Manifesto Against Ageism, and TED talk, “Let’s End Ageism” with over 1.6 million views, drive home the point that change starts with how we think and talk about older people and getting older. She is also co-founder of Old School Anti-ageism Clearinghouse—a repository of tools and resources for the emerging movement against ageism.

I learned that we are barraged by negative messages about aging throughout our lifetime. But Ashton’s research shows that the realities of being an “old person,” do not match up with the stereotypes. In fact, data show there is a Happiness U-Curve—on average, life satisfaction drops during midlife and begins its recovery around age 50, reaching its peak towards the end of life. As much as our culture obsesses over youth, “the paradox of aging” proves older people are more content with their lives than young adults. They're less stressed, less afraid of death, better able to manage whatever difficulties come their way.

Perceptions towards aging and ageism are changing. On March 18th, the World Health Organization launched its Global Campaign to Combat Ageism, bringing together evidence on the nature and magnitude of ageism, its determinants and its impact. The WHO report outlines what strategies work to prevent and counter ageism, identifies gaps, and proposes future lines of research to improve our understanding of ageism.

Change is coming whether it is embraced or rejected. Senior living providers will be forced to examine their own beliefs of ageism to deliver new models that are inclusive and equitable.


Check out Ashton’s TED Talk



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