The One -ism That Affects Everyone
What percentage of people over 65 live in nursing homes? How fast are dementia rates increasing? What impact does aging have on mental health?
The answers to these questions will surprise you. In reading Ashton Applewhite’s, This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism, you'll discover stories and facts that will fundamentally change the way you view growing older – no matter your age.
Why care about ageism? One thing unique about ageism is that it is the one “ism” that impacts everyone. And for women, people of color and individuals with lower incomes, ageism just compounds the problems of sexism, racism and classism. And ageism affects, not only your financial health but your physical and emotional health as well. According to the American Medical Association, internalizing the negative feelings about growing older can actually shorten your life an average of 7.5 years!
Applewhite is probably the leading activist fighting ageism. Her Ted Talk has almost a 1.5 million views. She also has a blog based on the book and has helped compile countless resources about the topic on her Old School website.
The Ageism Mindset
We nurture the ageism mindset by ignoring it. Our society worships the young and despises the normal aging process. Businesses literally make billions of dollars selling products to reduce wrinkles, color gray hair, enhance sexual performance and fight cognitive decline. Many of these products fail to deliver on their promises.
Applewhite suggests that “instead of detaching from our aging bodies, why not marvel at the way they change throughout the life course – or at least learn to accept it without censure? Learn to look more generously at each other as well as ourselves.” People who reject age shaming “instantly feel relieved and empowered.” She cites a 2013 study that found if you are confronted by prejudice and don’t object to it, you’ll actually become more prejudiced yourself. Another study found that when people speak to olders (Applewhite’s preferred term) condescendingly, they instantly age – meaning they actually walk, talk and think less capably.
The Risk of Loneliness
Applewhite also raises the issue of the “independence trap.” Approximately one third of people 75 and older live alone. Being alone can increase the risk of depression and lead to self-neglect. It also increases the risk for developing dementia. This book raises our consciousness about asking for help. This is a challenge, because in our society, we feel discouraged from asking for help. But we shouldn't feel shame if we need assistance. “Needing help is no more shameful at the end of life than at the beginning," she says. Internalized ageism impacts us, even in the smallest ways. Applewhite used to be offended when someone offered to help carry her groceries to her car. Now she realizes that her attitude was internalized ageism. People benefit from being kind, and we benefit from gracefully accepting help.
Intergenerational Activities Fight Isolation
How do we begin to fight this isolation? Applewhite says to “think of something you like to do and find a mixed-aged group to do it with.” Good advice for everyone. She suggests building a “web of informal relationships, based on need, ability, mutual interests, friendship and barter.” Perhaps easier said than done? Maybe, but there are many ways to find intergenerational activities. Get involved in community activities and volunteer for organizations. Be a tutor or mentor and attend events that draw people of all ages. Be more active at your church, mosque or synagogue. And find ways to draw in more young families. Reach out to someone you know who lives alone.
Curious about the answers posed at the beginning of this review? Only 2.5 percent of people over 65 live in nursing homes. What did you predict?
We see an increase in dementia cases, as the Baby Boomers age, but the actual rate of dementia is decreasing!
But the best news is that older people tend to be happier. People tend to be happiest as children and as olders. This “happiness curve” is a result of being more resilient. We cope with anger, envy and fear more effectively. Even those who live with serious physical challenges often report they are happier. We fear death less.
Reading Applewhite’s book has raised my consciousness that my future, as I age, is better than I had imagined, especially if I accept that the blessings of growing older outweigh the challenges.