Written by Michele Dinman, project coordinator at the WashU for Life Initiative, Harvey A. Friedman Center for Aging
The Harvey A. Friedman Center for Aging is working with the National Center to Reframe Aging to help reduce ageism in our society. To help organizations and individuals support our aging population and illuminate the ways in which older adults contribute to society, the Center for Aging is incorporating language and tactics from The Reframing Aging Initiative in its educational tools and into WashU courses and presentations on aging.
What is The Reframing Aging Initiative?
The initiative is a long-term social change endeavor developed by the National Center to Reframe Aging, and lead by the Gerontological Society of America. In addition to the aims listed above, the ultimate goal is to ensure the development of supportive U.S. policies and programs that address aging.
Improving peoples’ understanding of ageism is required before changing the narrative around age and aging. In its Global Report on Ageism, the World Health Organization defines ageism as stereotypes (how people think), prejudice (how people feel) and discrimination (how people act) towards others or oneself based on age. Ageism begins in childhood and often reinforced during one’s lifespan. Ageism is everywhere and it is something that most everyone experiences. Ageism can be intentional (explicit) or unintentional (implicit) and can take many different forms. Ageism shortens older peoples’ lives; leads to poor physical health and worsens health behaviors; delays recovery from disability; affects mental health; increases social isolation and loneliness; and reduces overall quality of life.
Changing the Narrative, a campaign to end ageism based in Colorado, has described ageism as the result of someone thinking that they can judge someone by only knowing one thing about them – their age. Research by FrameWorks Institute, a nonprofit think tank, shows how certain words describing older people are often associated with – and can reinforce – negative stereotypes about them, thereby increasing discrimination. The language we use and the stories we tell can reduce ageism.
Center activities related to the Reframing Aging Initiative:
The Harvey A. Friedman Center for Aging at the Institute for Public Health has developed issue briefs and infographics addressing the prevalence of ageism and how to reduce it. Center co-Director, Nancy Morrow-Howell, PhD, MSW, has been selected as member of the new advisory board of The National Center to Reframe Aging. The board counsels the organization on ways to improve people’s understanding of aging, increase awareness of the ways that older people contribute to our society, and decrease ageism. Morrow-Howell also helped develop a communications guide and participated in the Changing the Conversation Webinar Series. In this series, she presented Changing the Conversation: The Story of Aging, explaining to organizations who are developing communications materials, how to use the communication guide to tell a more complete story of aging.
In partnership with WashU’s Office of Institutional Equity, the Friedman Center offers the course, Foundations of an Inclusive Workplace: Fostering Age Inclusivity, which provides WashU staff and faculty with foundational concepts for increasing awareness of age as a social identity. This capacity-building session combines informational and interactive sections that deepen awareness of ageism and age diversity with the goal of fostering age-inclusivity and reducing ageism on campus.
The words that we use matter, and changing the way that we describe aging and older people can affect how people see older adults and view aging. These resources developed by the Reframing Aging Initiative can help change and improve people’s understanding of aging.
The video, “Frame of Mind: The Why and How of Reframing Aging,” is part of a series of three videos that helps us use language that presents a more accurate understanding of aging and describes how we can more positively view aging.
This communication guide uses the Reframing Aging Initiative’s evidence-informed research and guidance from the American Psychological Association, American Medical Association, and Associated Press style guides to demonstrate how to use age-inclusive language, without age-bias, in writing documents and other communications.
Some examples of communication best practices include:
1. Using language that is inclusive and free of age bias
2. Highlighting the diversity that exists in the older population
3. Talking affirmatively about changing demographics and avoiding negative generational terms
4. Emphasizing collective responsibility and social context
5. Talking about aging as a dynamic process that can benefit society
6. Defining ageism whenever using the term
7. Including concrete, systems-level solutions such as community centers with intergenerational programs, advisory committees that require diversity of ages, transportation systems that include bus stops in front of senior centers, libraries, and age-neutral workplace policies on hiring and advancement
8. Incorporate the Concepts of Justice and Ingenuity
The Quick Start Guide, is a tip sheet that demonstrates framing, the process of making choices about how we use words to describe people and cues.
An example of framing: Instead of words such as “seniors,” “elderly,” “aging dependents,” and such “other-ing” terms that are stereotypical, use a more neutral “older people/Americans” or the more inclusive “we” and “us”.
The National Center to Reframing Aging offers a web page illustrating resources on research and related content.
A communications toolkit developed by FrameWorks, called Gaining Momentum, features tested strategies and evidence-informed tools that have been found to reduce implicit bias towards aging.
By examining and changing the way we communicate about older people, we can begin to help others and ourselves see aging in a more positive way and increase peoples’ awareness of ageism. The Harvey A. Friedman Center for aging is working with organizations, such as the Reframing Aging Initiative, to develop tools that help alleviate negative beliefs about aging.