What does Healthy Aging Mean? There is a spectrum. By Michelle Walch

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 The new age of aging.  

I've been aware of issues facing older people for some time.  While earning a Master's degree in Public Administration at Portland State University, I became aware of the public service sector's response to the increase in an older population.  My husband and I became parents at older ages, which also got me thinking about what it means to be an older parent (which will be the subject of a future blog). 

When I started blogging for Jackie B. Peterson at Better, Smarter, Richer, I learned about Encore Entrepreneurs.   It makes sense having small business start-up programs aimed at an older population.  Longevity, the desire to finally do your dream business or do a startup out of necessity are some of the reasons for continuing to work after what would be considered the traditional time to retire.  But how do we make this work?  How do we change society's prevailing notions of aging?  How can we change the mindset of business owners to work with people in their 50's, 60's and older?

There is a huge movement underway to respond to the new age of aging.  I explore and share new thoughts, blogs, institutions, studies and a plethora of information that helps us understand what it means to grow older.  No, it does not mean being decrepit, sad and alone.  It can mean a vibrant next stage of life, utilizing a wealth of knowledge gained over the years.  Sure, not everyone will experience the same things at the same age.  Not everyone will have positive experiences.  But there is an increased chance of being healthy and involved with the community, whatever the individual situation is.  Society needs to change its mindset. 

Discrimination is still a big factor in growing older.  Fighting ageism has long been a problem, and Ashton Applewhite, the author of This Chair Rocks, is a formidable force in this battle.   Applewhite defines agism: "Like racism and sexism, ageism serves a social and economic purpose: to legitimize and sustain inequalities between groups. It’s not about how we look. It’s about how people in power assign meaning to how we look."  She goes to on say that awareness, integration, and activism are the antidotes.  Funny and insightful, check out her Q&A Yo, is this ageist?

People are living longer and generally healthier.  Staying active, social, and in some cases, economically involved does not have an age limit.  Common perceptions prevail, but that is starting to change.  In 2006, the World Health Organization partnered with Portland State University's Institute on Aging to prepare for an aging population.  According to the Age-Friendly Portland website, Portland was the only U.S. city of the 33 cities worldwide asked to participate in the study.  Why is this important?  According to the Age Friendly Portland Action Plan, before 2050, there will be more people over 60 than under the age of 14.  There are "domains of action" for ten areas in Portland, including housing, outdoor spaces and buildings, respect and social inclusion, and communication. 

Hiring older workers and working with Encore Entrepreneurs are being championed by various organizations. Older people are often confronted with discrimination when shopping.  A retail associate may gravitate towards a younger shopper rather than someone with gray hair.  Turns out, the older shopper may have more money than the younger person.

How to encourage businesses, institutions, and society to include older people economically?  2018 marks the first year Portland will give awards to age-friendly businesses.  There are two awards: businesses that make older people feel welcome, and businesses that hire older people.  Visit Elders in Action on how to nominate or apply.  Recognizing places that serve older people and hire older people are positive steps in including older generations. 

Everyone ages differently.   There is a spectrum of aging.   Genetics no doubt plays a role, but life choices do as well.   Sometimes finding a social outlet is difficult.    Fending off isolation is a big issue.  But in general, living full lives as we progress through life has improved, thanks to medicine and making healthy choices.  Now, the rest of the world needs to catch up with seniors on the go. 

Reflection and the wisdom gained from that reflection of someone who has lived a long life is revered.  Maybe that's stereotypical, but that knowledge gained over a lifetime can be universal.  One of my favorite blogs, Man Repeller, interviewed older women about what they learned in their 70 plus years.  Check out Man Repeller's additional forward-thinking stories on growing older.

Economics are often an issue.  There are many Boomers who are set financially.  There are those who still need to pad up retirement funds.  Still others who are finally at a stage where they can realize their dream business.  But whatever the reason for continued economic involvement, the ability and desire is there to be active.   Next Avenue is a comprehensive blog that features articles about economics and how it affects people 50 and older.  I discovered this blog after watching a story by Paul Solman's Making Sense on News Hour.  He did a story on Elizabeth White, author of Fifty Five, Unemployed and Faking Normal.  Her article in Next Avenue got a lot of people speaking up about their own experiences of financial struggle. I interviewed Elizabeth for Better, Smarter, Richer.

We live in an era of low birth rates and a growing population that is experiencing longevity.  Youth culture may need a new definition. 

What do you notice with the growing older demographic?  What would you like to see?  How has agism affected you or someone you know? 

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