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Turning 70 and a Few Thoughts About Ageism

By Becki Cohn-Vargas April 15, 2023 Lifestyle

My house is on a hillside near the entrance to Wildcat Canyon Park, a beautiful regional park that stretches for miles. I love walking to the park and climbing what we call the ridges. On a clear day, you can reach what you think is the top, slightly out of breath, and turn around to view the San Francisco Bay and Golden Gate Bridge.

Then you turn ahead and realize you aren’t at the top, you’re facing yet another ridge that continues up, and you can see Mount Diablo in one direction and Mount Tamalpais in the other. That experience is what happens when we age.

In September 2022, I turned 70. Wow, it feels just like climbing up those ridges. I’ve been writing blogs for Sixty and Me since my mid-60. Recently, I heard from a reader, Jon Taber, a young man who’d read my blog Life After 60 May Just Be the Most Productive – It’s All About Perfect Timing. He requested an interview about ageism for his podcast, Audit Fun for people in the audit profession.

I’d been busy writing a book and hadn’t written blogs for a while. After researching ageism for the podcast, I decided it was vital information to share with Sixty and Me.

4 Things to Know About Ageism

Societal Stereotypes

Our society that worships youth promotes many misconceptions, stereotypes, and myths about aging. For example, seniors are often stereotyped as slow, weak, feeble, frail, and out of touch with the times, especially with technology. But, of course, you aren’t because you are reading this online!

A Global Challenge

A World Health Organization article entitled Ageism is a Global Challenge reports, “Every second person in the world is believed to hold ageist attitudes – leading to poorer physical and mental health and reduced quality of life for older persons, costing societies billions of dollars each year, according to a new United Nations report on ageism.”

Older Workers

Many of you continue to work part-time during your 60s. Some of my friends are working in their 70s and even their 80s. We don’t need research to remind us that older workers are often highly skilled and experienced.

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, workers between 55-64 stay in their jobs more than three times more than those between 25-34. They often have a strong work ethic, arrive at work earlier, and are less likely to miss work.

Ageism Hurts Our Health

Whether we are working or not, ageism has been found to hurt our health. For example, an estimated 6.3 million cases of depression globally are estimated to be attributable to ageism. While it’s true that our memory is impacted as we age, we forget more when we worry about it.

But the worst part happens when we believe and internalize negative attitudes about aging. Ageism impacts our health in three different ways:

  • Psychological: negative age stereotypes can exacerbate stress and depression.
  • Behavioral: negative self-perceptions of aging predict worse health behavior, such as noncompliance with prescribed medications.
  • Physiological: negative age stereotypes predict detrimental brain changes decades later, including the accumulation of plaques and tangles and a reduction in the size of the hippocampus.

What Can We Do About Ageism in Our Lives?

Neuroscientists are studying how stereotype threat, which is the fear of confirming a negative stereotype, harms seniors’ performance. In lab studies, researchers found that stereotypes can lead to slower walking and weaker grip strength for older adults.

Gerontology researcher Sarah Barber states, “Your attitude about aging is highly predictive of your aging outcomes,” she said. “Those who have positive attitudes about aging live longer, have a better memory function, and recover more easily from illnesses.”

Acting Against Ageism

So what can we do? We can work to counteract myths and misconceptions about aging and support policies and laws that address ageism. We can also work on our attitudes, increase confidence, enhance empathy, and engage in intergenerational activities. Ultimately, all these things will improve our health and the quality of our lives.

Reaching 70 has been an important milestone for me. I hope to follow this advice as I climb the ridges that lie ahead. You can listen to my recent interview here:

Audit Fun: Podcast on Ageism

Resources

If you are working, here are a couple of great resources.

  1. National Council of Aging Tips – Job Skills CheckUp, to develop a plan to find job openings, build a professional network, prepare for job interviews, and more.
  2. Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP) helps low-income older adults find work. It matches eligible applicants (age 55+) with paid, part-time training assignments for nonprofit organizations.

Let’s Have a Conversation:

Do you feel ageism in your life, or is this a concept you haven’t personally felt? How has ageism impacted you? Is ageism getting worse for you the older you get? What do you do to counteract the ageist stereotype?

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Mercedes

This type behavior with getting older especially at place of work very hurtful. I don’t quite know how to react to it?

CES

I think one’s attitude has a whole lot to do with the way one is perceived by others. A happy and engaging, “I’m still curious about life” disposition transcends outward signs of age. Also, while we don’t have to chase all the latest fashion trends (and sometimes look ridiculous in the process), we shouldn’t give into the “old lady look” (sloppy pants, ‘comfortable walking’ shoes, shapeless dresses, etc.) I won’t ever pass for 30 again, nor be a Size 4, but I still dress to look fashionable, and ‘put together’ and that makes me feel better. Consistent, good skin care, and healthy diet and exercise habits help keep us in the game. I turn 70 in September, and while that number is daunting, many people think I’m in my 50s. And I have met many vital folks in their 80s & 90s. Yes, we do face new, different (& sometimes frustrating) challenges as we age and have to make (some) accommodations for those… But never ‘give up’. Ageism is a sad reality but it’s how we respond to it that shapes our current & future outlook. Attitude & Gratitude are the cornerstones for ‘aging gracefully’.
Let’s Rock Ladies!

Jeanieh

Totally agree with you!

Alainnah Robertson

Great article!

I’ve just turned 90, and am told that I look in my late 60s. As you say so well, dressing fashionably and appropriately is important, as is caring for our bodies by living a healthy lifestyle.

Chronological age is just a number. I’ve too much to do to care what age I am.

Last edited 10 months ago by Alainnah Robertson
Ardith Bowman

Wonderful insights about ageism. We do it to ourselves and it will change when we do and speak up. One woman at a time! Another great resource is Changing the Narrative. You might want to join in their coffee chats and presentations. they have Pro-aging birthday cards too! This is a growing movement; it is good to know we are not alone as we create a new, more positive picture of what it means to be 70 and beyond. Ardith

Sharon

I am 73. I worked until I was 71. I did not want to retire but two 30 somethings felt I was too old and started a campaign to oust me from my job of 21 years. Long story short I no longer work there and I won my grievance but chose not to go back to that toxic environment. I wish I could be around whe those 2 are ‘too old’!

This year was a bit of a milestone for me. My mother died right after her 73rd birthday. I am healthier than my mother and even tho I suffer from chronic depression I have very rarely felt old. When I catch myself starting to do the senior’s shuffle I stand taller and walk a bit faster. When I find myself slouching I pull my shoulders back and carry on. When I feel I am sinking into myself and feeling invisible I make a point of engaging in a conversation with someone, even a stranger.

We all become old chronologically but we have to keep our bodies and minds active so we don’t become mentally old! I will never be old!

Jeanieh

Good for you Sharon, I’ll never be old either! Love the attitude.

Patty

I had a similar situation … only I was younger when it happened to me. I was about 62 and I had three 30-somethings form their clique to push me out! I was demoted, filed a complaint with EEOC, which gave me a right to sue letter, and the union always stood by me. I got reinstated to former title, with backpay, and chose to retire, then, as life is too short for that nonsense! I am so much happier now that I left!!! Awful people they were or rather most likely still are!

Sara

Hello! Ageism? I never knew that word existed until now:). I am turning 65 this year and I am excited and little scared about it too because with it are the world’s expectation that you should be retiring and “put on a shelf” because you’re “expiry date” is 65!!! However, I am going to kick that out of the ball park because I have not yet reached my “best before date” at all!!:). Thank you for your timely article. I am always amazed at women who are older than I who are running marathons and hiking and biking, etc. I have great hopes that the future for us “elders” will be wonderful and full of adventures! Take care!

Jeanieh

You go girl!!!!

Sara

Thank you for cheering me on! You go too!!

Sherry

I am 74 and still work full-time as a Kindergarten Teacher at in inner city public school with a 93% poverty rating and I have no plans on quitting until I know I am no longer doing the best for my students.

Sara

I am totally in agreement with you!!

The Author

Becki Cohn-Vargas, Ed.D, has been blogging regularly for Sixty and Me since 2015. She is a retired educator and independent consultant. She's the co-author of three books on identity safe schools where students of all backgrounds flourish. Becki and her husband live in the San Francisco Bay Area and have three adult children and one grandchild. You can connect with her at the links below.

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