Ageism Awareness Day happens this year on October 7. Specifically in the senior care industry, we have a responsibility to the older adults we serve to understand and recognize ageism and be part of the solution. This article focuses on internalized ageism, which happens when an older adult believes the negative biases around aging that society normalizes. This disturbing aspect of ageism finds its roots in ageist attitudes of society rather than fact. Yet it can contribute to older adults’ emotional and physical decline when they believe they “cannot” or “should not” simply because of their age.
We asked ourselves how the senior care industry can ally with older adults and help dismantle internalized ageism so they can live life to its potential. We recently sat down with senior living community leaders to discuss this issue and found that communities work to dissolve internalized ageism daily by valuing and listening to residents’ opinions and desires, providing programming that enriches their lives, and offering services that empower their independence. These efforts contribute to elders’ self-esteem and a positive self-image they can carry through late adulthood.
Circumstances typically bring a person to a senior living community, said Andrew Steighner, general manager of Bozeman Lodge Independent and Assisted Living in Bozeman, Montana. The independence they started to lose when living at home is often found again when someone becomes a resident of a community that supports them.
“I’ve seen it happen so often,” Steighner said. “We’re working to connect the dots … helping [residents] gain their independence again. We’re creating those social bonds, we’re creating consistency and routine, which decreases anxiety, and that also creates better outcomes.”
Ageism is a wide and deep swamp with many tributaries. It can appear in the negative bias about aging on TV, in movies, and in other media. It can occur in patronizing words like, “You still enjoy gardening at your age? How sweet.” It even shows up in our minds through negative attitudes about what older adults can or can’t do or what they should or shouldn’t. This is where internalized ageism comes in. It is the effect of the messaging people get from society beginning at a young age. By the time a person starts to age, the internalized ageism is already ingrained in them.
Senior living communities don’t ignore aging. Instead, they see it as a part of life and believe that late adulthood is a chapter of life worth living with dignity and respect. They celebrate life and honor their residents’ wisdom, experience, and wishes in a multitude of ways on a daily basis.
Encouraging residents to be involved in community decisions not only values the residents’ opinions but also reminds them that their opinions matter and that they can and should be heard. At Legend at Jefferson’s Garden Assisted Living in Edmond, Oklahoma, resident committees meet monthly to discuss activities with the life enrichment director and menu options with the chef. Lauren Davis, community sales director, said that residents choose outings and the stores they visit, and they also suggest activities to do (and which ones not to do again). “This is really their home, and we are here just to make them live well,” Davis said.
Bozeman Lodge is no stranger to listening to its residents to create meaningful experiences. Community leaders speak with new residents upon moving in to learn about their interests and hobbies. New clubs and programming often arise from these discussions. Steighner mentioned a resident who moved from Chicago who makes and sells ceramics. The community started a ceramics club for her to continue her hobby, which sparked interest in other residents who have since joined. It may be no surprise that Bozeman Lodge won the 2023 Best Retirement Community award in Gallatin’s Greatest, the region’s community choice awards. Bozeman Lodge empowers the residents, showing them that their opinions, experience, and skills matter.
Retaining independence and self-determination can help fight internalized ageism; communities often support this with educational programming. Regularly scheduled seminars at Legend at Jefferson’s Garden educate residents. From meetings on Medicare updates and long-term care insurance information sessions to demonstrations of the proper use of tech devices and how to protect themselves from spam calls, the residents have regular access to new and important information. This fosters residents’ confidence in advocating for themselves and staying informed to make independent choices.
A common misconception about senior living is that people lose their independence once they move in. On the contrary, senior living communities nurture independence by offering the help a resident needs while they do everything else they can and want. Often, the former home hindered a positive self-image because of newfound difficulty with chores and household tasks; in a community, with those chores removed, a resident can blossom once again.
Davis spoke of a resident who moved in reluctantly after her family’s request. Initially, she preferred to stay in her room most of the time, but she found herself, her independence, and her desire to connect with others once again. “She is so vibrant and full of life. Hardly ever in her room, and she always goes to breakfast, lunch, and dinner a little early for social hour and to talk with her friends.” Through the stable, maintenance-free, supported lifestyle, Davis said, “it is a complete 180.”
The unyielding support and daily opportunity for engagement that communities provide residents are the antithesis of the ageist behavior that causes internalized ageism. This is the work we in the senior care space do daily with compassion and authenticity. Professionals in the industry know that when our elders have the support they need, they are free to live the life they want and “live well,” as Davis said.
Our team loves connecting with publishers, journalists and podcasters.
For media inquiries please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
SilverAssist ended the 2023 year by fundraising and supporting the…
August 21st was National Senior Citizens Day, a holiday instituted…
With millions of veterans and their spouses eligible for VA…
SilverAssist enters the Elder Care Market composed of several successful…