This is Getting Old

03 Jan 2024

Born before 1997? This is for you

By DR. MELISSA BATCHELOR

When you think of aging, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Take a moment to answer before reading on. Your answer matters and is likely influenced by societal narratives that started in your childhood.    

Does aging mean decline, frailty, or being dependent on others? Or does aging mean vitality, productivity, and happiness? The first line of thinking indicates self-imposed ageist beliefs that can affect your physical and mental health (even decrease your lifespan by 7.5 years according to a study conducted at Yale University). The second line of thinking indicates positive beliefs about aging and are true statements for most Americans.

An ageist world perpetuates negative stereotypes about aging, from mass anti-aging media messaging to our own implicit bias about growing older. In addition to impacting our health, it takes a huge economic toll on individuals and society and is so rampant that the World Health Organization and the United Nations created global campaigns to combat it. Like these organizations, I imagine a different future—an age-friendly world. 

But why should you care? Well, in less than a decade, there will be more older adults on the planet than children for the first time in human history. And that’s because of the baby boomers, right? So, I’m talking about them and not you? Not so fast. Millennials took over as the largest generation in 2020; and in 2022, they started turning 40 (which makes them old enough to sue for age discrimination in the workplace). Adults over 40 are the new consumer majority.

I host a weekly podcast called “This is Getting Old: Moving Towards an Age-Friendly World.” The podcast isn’t about “getting old”. It’s about all the things that aren’t in place for an aging population—that’s what’s getting old. The podcast is a conversation about us, and we have less than 25 years to talk about and find solutions that millennials will need when they turn 65, just as today’s older adults and their families need solutions now. Episodes revolve around three themes: aging/ageism, age-friendly initiatives, and Alzheimer’s disease.

While what we think about “normal aging” matters, the truth is that many Americans don’t age “normally.” Chronic conditions like cancer and Alzheimer’s disease are common and the associated care needs impact 31% of American households. Our long-term care system is fractured, so family caregivers are largely required to step in without adequate financial, social, and medical support for zero pay—a (conservative) estimated economic value of $600 billion in unpaid care. Being age-friendly also means developing support and resources for our family and friends who find themselves in this role. 

The number of healthcare professionals board certified (BC) in geriatrics is appallingly low. Of 1 million physicians, less than 6,500 are geriatricians; and of 4 million nurses, less than 2% are gerontological nurses. The podcast allows me to share my expertise (and that of my guests) as a BC gerontological registered nurse (RN) and family nurse practitioner (FNP) with the public and policymakers. By raising awareness and providing education about the challenges we face and examples of solutions, I hope to see solutions replicated to improve the health and well-being of all communities.

Challenging internal and external ageist beliefs, increasing awareness about age-friendly initiatives, and supporting our nation’s caregivers are at the core of cultivating a society where growing older is celebrated. Generations will need to work together to create solutions that benefit us all. I hope you’ll join the conversation about building an age-friendly world where every stage of life is celebrated…because when things are age-friendly, they are friendly for everyone! To learn more, visit MelissaBPhD.com

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