Older Americans Month (#OlderAmericansMonth) is observed annually in May. The Older Americans site doesn’t define “older,” but 1 in 6 Americans are now 65 or older, according to the 2021 Profile of Older Americans prepared by the Administration on Aging (part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services). We know that a good portion of Women of the ELCA participants fall into that category, and we’re all aging, so let’s explore how positive age beliefs and lead to better health.
Older Americans Month is a good time to check your own thoughts about aging. Do you have negative age beliefs? Are you aware of all the ageist stereotypes that surround us? Have you experienced age prejudice? Do you have positive age beliefs? Not sure of your beliefs about aging? Take this image of aging quiz.
Older Americans Month is also a good time to check the thoughts about aging within your congregation and your community.
Yale researcher and author Becca Levy says that thoughts about aging—both negative and positive—can impact aging health. “I found that older people with more-positive perceptions of aging performed better physically and cognitively than those with more-negative perceptions,” Levy writes. “They were more likely to recover from severe disability, they remembered better, they walked faster and they even lived longer” And who wouldn’t want to enjoy better overall health as you age?
To create or nurture more positive age beliefs, Levy encourages people to begin by increasing their awareness of ageism, looking to language, imaging and stereotypes, and diversity. Then shift the blame from aging itself to ageism. Follow that by challenging age beliefs, calling out ageist behavior when it happens.
Additional information and recommendations are found in Levy’s 2022 book Breaking the Age Code: How Your Beliefs About Aging Determine How Long & Well You Live (HarperCollins Publishers). There’s even a reading group guide in the book, so your congregational unit could read and discuss the book and see what applications there are for your lives individually and collectively. What a great way to support Women of the ELCA’s health initiative, Raising Up Healthy Women and Girls.
To learn more about Dr. Becca Levy’s work and book, check out this podcast: https://www.npr.org/2022/06/24/1107456623/dont-let-ageism-define-you-how-to-enjoy-life-at-every-stage