The Changing Perspective on Aging

Our society today is growing older at a faster pace than any other time in history. In fact, centenarians (those aged 100 and over) are the fastest growing demographic in the United States as technological improvements and emphasis on long-term care have boosted the number of centenarians in the United States to almost 100,000. By the middle of this century, many demographers believe that one-in-fifty women and one-in-two hundred men will live to age 100. Furthermore it is expected that by 2015, the number of seniors over the age of 65 will exceed the number of children under the age of 15. By 2031, seniors will account for approximately a quarter of the North American population.

Given these tremendous changes in demography, Western society is reshaping its views on aging and life after retirement. In a study by the National Council on Aging (NCOA), 93% of respondents between the ages of 65 and 70 would be happy if they could live another 10 years. As Emmy-award winning actress Doris Roberts stated in a 2003 Senate hearing on ageism, "the majority of seniors of self-sufficient, middle-class consumers with more assets than most young people, and with time and talent to offer society. That is not to say that ageism does not exist. In a 2001 survey by Erdman Palmore, 31% of respondents over 65 reported being ignored or not taken seriously because of their age. Clearly, Western society is not yet aligned with tradional Asian views on aging, which consider their elders to be jewels of society and revered symbols.

The change must start from within, with the attitudes of the seniors themselves. There is even a significant health benefit to greater self-esteem among seniors. A study by Yale University found that among people aged 50 and older, those with more positive self-perceptions about their age lived on average 7.5 years longer than those with negative self-perceptions. However they key is to change the views that today's younger generations hold about seniors through education. Findings revealed that students who took courses on Aging and Family had more positive attitudes toward older adults. Courses that try to help students understand to perspective of seniors increases empathy and understanding of the difficulties that they face. This is just one of many examples of the growing age sensitivity that continues to pervade Western society which will lead to a harmonious future where people of all ages are respectful to each other.

Source: Live to 102 by Dr. Kathy Johnson

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