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To Address Ageism, We Need to “Reframe” Aging

Renae Alvarez
August 25, 2017
On Friday, August 11th the Health & Medicine Communications and Development team and Center for Long-Term Care Reform Staff attended the American Society on Aging (ASA) Roundtable on, “Ending Ageism and Reframing Aging, Your Role as an Advocate” presented by ASA President & CEO Bob Stein.  Stein encouraged the audience to share this work and bring it to our organizations so that we can start conversations around how our society systematically stereotypes and discriminates against people on the basis of their age. I can certainly get behind that. But once the conversation starts, then how do we redress ageism today?

To advance health equity, we must also consider how a variety of systems of oppression and privilege operate at different levels (i.e., internalized, interpersonal, institutional, and structural). Ageism, for example, impedes older people’s ability to earn a living wage and meaningfully engage in community by limiting opportunities for people in the workplace to be hired and rehired, reinforcing negative perceptions of old age—which have been shown to shorten one’s life—and minimizing older adults capacity to contribute to society through lack of support, strategies, and ingenuity within the workplace. Ageism by itself unfairly but effectively reduces people to stereotyped categories. People of color or other marginalized older people who have less access to power and privilege will feel the brunt of adverse health effects due to ageism. Advocacy efforts will need to be further developed with an intersectoral lens that reflects the complexity of systems of oppression themselves. Perhaps reframing aging will harness the momentum needed to challenge such complex public and social issues.  



ASA, along with eight leaders of national aging organizations, collaborated with FrameWorks Institute to commission a research project examining how older adults in the U.S. are perceived and how to reframe the conversation in a more realistic light. I was impressed and energized to see a rigorous method of inquiry from the FrameWorks Institute including interviews with experts, public interviews, and messages common in media communications to fully grasp that ageism is pervasive and a “pernicious force that is unlikely to abate anytime soon.” (Robbins, 2015). As architects for changing the narrative around major social issues that are dominant American assumptions, like ageism, from their findings, FrameWorks has developed tools, webinars, and resources are the roadmap to reframing aging in conversations, grant writing, policies and programs. I hope you’ll join me in spreading the word about this toolkit and sparking more conversation about how we can “reframe” aging.