In a recent interview with John Feather, Ph.D., CEO of Grantmakers in Aging, we discussed the long-term care expert’s views of the general public when dealing with growing older. Most believe that our society lives in a state of denial when dealing with aging. Dr. Feather’s organization, with the help of other leaders in aging put together a study, Understanding Aging in America. With the work of Frameworks Institute, they discovered the factors that play into the consumer’s misunderstanding of growing old.
The Four Factors
America is a country built on “individualism.” We are proud people and believe each person has the right and liberty to be who and what we choose to be. That’s all great, of course, but the attitude leads to an “it’s not my problem” thinking. So, when one gets older, frail, and unhealthy, it’s not the society’s responsibility to step in. It rests on that person who is sick; each person should handle their health, finances, etc. Society has deep roots in independent perceptions.
Us vs. Them
The attitude embraces a Zero-sum game perception. If one wins, someone must lose. For example, if we, or the government, puts money toward a program for the elderly or seniors, then the children will lose. Our society has difficulty in thinking in terms of “the whole.” We are stuck in segregation. For example, if we give money to the older generations, then we take away from the children. Someone loses. But our society is not segregated, and no one should lose.
Contradicting Images of Aging
We see this advertising. One ad shows a happy, retired couple traveling the world or sitting in a swimming pool at a luxury assisted living community. Then another image shows an elderly man stuck in a wheelchair and placed in the corner of a nursing home all alone. These are two very different scenarios. Dr. Feather’s says, “These images simply don’t tell the truth about older adults. Few retired people live a luxurious life on one hand while even fewer older people live in a nursing home facility. It’s difficult to link the two together when explaining to the general public – the happiness village or the unfortunate result.”
One of the last factors that the general public holds tight is the glum and doom perception, and there’s little chance of
“whatever the topic” to improve. The perfect example is Social Security. How many people believe it will disintegrate leaving no money or very little to go around? There is enough left to go around, and we aren’t at risk of losing it all. How many people have little faith in it to do a quality job for the American public?
Carol Marak, Aging Advocate and Editor, SeniorCare.com.