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Leaves Shadow
  • Kristin Webb

Reframing Ageism

Updated: Mar 11


Jackie ran into a former co-worker, Mary, in the grocery store and exclaimed “Mary, it’s

lovely to see you after all these years—you look so great for your age!”


Although Jackie’s intention was to compliment her friend Mary, and Mary likely took it as such, the impact of her comment was a perpetuation of ageism.  As we talked about in last month’s blog, ageism exists in our communities, health care systems and workplaces.  It has a significant impact on older adult’s quality of life and must be addressed within these systems. These are complex problems that will take much time and consideration to resolve.


However, there are a few significant drivers of ageism that we can act on right now, and it starts with reframing aging.  Ageism is most insidious in our language and our perceptions of aging.  It is a form of implicit bias, which is the unconscious attitudes and beliefs that can lead to snap judgements about groups of people.  Plain and simple, ageism is discrimination.


We can counteract this implicit bias by learning to identify the negative messaging about aging and making a conscious effort to change, or reframe,  it to a positive message.  For example,  Jackie just needs to remove the “for your age” in her sentence to reframe it.


Here are some other examples of hidden ageism, and how you can flip it to a positive message:


Ageist: Referring to the growing population of older people as a “tidal wave” or “silver tsunami” or other catastrophic terms

Reframe: Talk affirmatively about changing demographics, in terms of people living longer and healthier lives and how that adds value to our culture.


Ageist: Using terms like 'choice', 'planning' and 'control' that over emphasize an individual’s role in determining aging outcomes.

Reframe: Emphasizing the community’s role in aging outcomes, and the need to work

together to find solutions so all older adults thrive.


Ageist: Making refererences such as 'senior', 'elderly' or 'aging dependents'—these are examples of othering that are fraught with negative stereotypes.

Reframe: Using neutral (older people) and inclusive (we, us) terms.


For more information and inspiration, please visit reframingaging.org.  You will find many great resources on reframing aging.  You can take a test to measure  your implicit bias towards older people at implicit.harvard.edu.


While these reframes can have a direct impact, it takes time and intention to shift through and root out familair words and sterotypes. As an organization, Eastside Friends of Seniors is committing to this process and we invite you to join us.


If we learn and practice how to recognize and reframe aging, we will model this change to others. If we point out examples of ageism, we will educate others.  We can’t influence the world, but maybe, just maybe, we can influence our community to adopt a more positive outlook on aging.

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