By Rebecca Chandler, social work intern at Tennessee State University's Center on Aging Research and Education Services
There is one truth in this world: barring illness or incident, we will all age. We are told to respect our elders, and that can be easy to do when it concerns our grandparents and the older adults we love. However, have you ever felt frustrated when your mother calls you because she has forgotten her Facebook password again, or have you recently agreed with the sentiments that there should be an age limit to hold political office?
Ageism permeates our society in ways that most don't realize. With technological advances, our world drastically differs from what it was like, even fifty years ago. It is easier for younger generations to acclimate to new phones and computers, walk around our homes and cities with ease, and move through our everyday tasks without a thought. But sometimes, daily tasks can be a struggle for some elderly individuals, with businesses and banks pushing to access vital information via a computer. Or a doctor's office, making one complete paperwork for critical medical appointments and surgeries. Often, buildings do not accommodate physical impairments, causing some seniors to struggle with stairs or navigate small hallways unsuitable for walkers or wheelchairs.
There is also the stereotype that many seniors are not functional members of our society. There has been an uptick in ageist sentiments regarding our politicians, such as President Joe Biden or Senator Mitch McConnell, that they are not fit for political office. According to a CBS/YouGov survey, over 75% of voters favor an age limit for elected officials. Perhaps there is a valid criticism of the cognitive abilities of some older politicians. Still, it is important not to paint a broad brushstroke of a vast population. Ronald Reagan was sixty-nine when he became president; Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg received her nomination to the Supreme Court at the age of sixty; Benjamin Franklin was seventy when he signed the Declaration of Independence. Regardless of one's political stance, these politicians enacted reforms that still significantly impact American policies today. When we say that an older person shouldn't be a part of government, what does this say to our elderly loved ones? Are we, in a way, invalidating their opinions, their hard work, and their wisdom?
October 7th is Ageism Awareness Day, and I implore everyone to reflect on how we participate in stereotyping and discrimination against older people. My grandparents played a major role in raising me, and I have interacted with many older adults working at a senior living facility. I have known people pushing 100 years old infinitely smarter than me, some in their nineties who could obliterate me in a game of golf, and people in their 70s who safely drive motorcycles. It is time for all of us to respect the value that older adults contribute to our society, many of whom volunteer for amazing causes after they retire. I have been greeted by sweet older ladies working at charity shops, and I have volunteered with incredibly wise seniors while working as an election poll worker.
So, the next time you find yourself frustrated because your father can't figure out how to take a picture on an iPhone or you're held up behind an older person driving five miles under the speed limit, consider this: we live in a modern world that often fails to accommodate many older individuals or people with disabilities. Visit your grandparents or older neighbor, offer to change a lightbulb for them, listen to their stories, and watch them effortlessly outwit you while watching an episode of Jeopardy.