AAA™ In the News Feb 2020 - Needed: Better Stereotypes

Can you imagine a time where older adults were visible and celebrated in every public sphere? They inspired younger generations to open up about mental health. And they were the 'poster-children' of the biggest issue affecting mankind today.

They would be new kinds of stereotypes. Better, more positive representations of what it means to age today, and this month’s news review focuses on just some of the ways they’re taking shape.

Get the picture

We begin with the news that AARP (formerly the American Association of Retired Persons), has teamed up with Getty Images to promote 1400 new images for media outlets which better reflect ageing today.

The idea came about after research by the non-profit (and AAA partner), showed that in the media, older adults are either shown in a negative light, or simply not at all.

Filled with new images of older adults “singing, skiing, swimming in the sea, traveling abroad...”, the Disrupt Ageing Collection challenges the clichés of older people laughing with their grandchildren or just relaxing, to show the true diversity of the lives we (all) lead.

Says AARP's Martha Boudreau, an executive vice president and its chief communications and marketing officer; "This stereotype-shattering collection reflects the reality of what aging looks like today. The collection shows the 50-plus in the workplace, traveling, entertaining and living active, healthy lives”.

If you’ve ever searched for images of older adults on stock sites (we certainly have), then you’ll know how uninspiring some of these images can be. And if we only ever see images of older adults looking vulnerable or living outside of society then we continue to believe it’s ‘business as usual’. And that simply isn’t true.

Keep talking, don’t just carry on

Deeply engrained attitudes are hard to shift, but not impossible. As we can see from AARP and Getty’s work, giving people more choice opens the door for others to do the same.

That belief lies at the heart of our next article, focusing on another long held assumption, but one held by older people themselves.

Research shows that six in ten older adults have experienced depression or anxiety. The ‘stiff upper lip’ may have helped Brits cope with the adversity of war, but in a time where we are all encouraged to speak up about our problems, it can stop those needing help to ask for it.

Led by NHS England and Age UK, the national campaign hopes to encourage more older people to speak up and approach their GP to get help such as counselling.

Says Caroline Abrahams, Age UK director: “In recent years there’s been nothing short of a cultural revolution in our willingness to be open about mental ill health, which is an essential pre-condition to people getting help, but it’s one that may well have left many older people behind. They grew up in an era when there was a real stigma associated with mental illness, so for many, these attitudes are deeply engrained and still driving their behaviour today”.

If there’s one thing we have learnt of late, it’s that just getting on with things solves nothing. It may delay an issue or help us ignore them, but it waits for us around the corner. Let’s swap our stiff upper lips, for something much looser, because talking is one of the most powerful things mankind can do.

Communication crisis

‘Help’. Or more accurately, ‘let’s help each other’, is the key message in the biggest issue facing mankind today.

The climate crisis is unignorable. But, even while humanity’s actions are evidenced around the world the debate on what to do has become mired in the polarisation between the ‘young and old’. Those who caused it and those who will suffer. It’s become the defining debate of our time.

Author and professor of life writing and culture at London Metropolitan University Anne Karpf argues in this piece in the Guardian, that we cannot let this happen. If we took care to avoid another kind of stereotype - that of an older person with their head in the sand - we would see that every generation cares.

As Anne argues, it was the over-65s who “grew up in pre-throwaway times and know all about keeping, repairing and reusing; [and] we need those skills now more than ever”.

She continues; “Polarising old and young isn’t an effective long-term strategy. If climate activism is to stand any chance of succeeding, it needs to be intergenerational and multigenerational, based on the idea of stewardship of the commons – those resources shared by us all that we need to safeguard for future generations. That way we can be sure future generations will actually exist”.

Like AARP’s images showing older adults living diverse lives, and the NHS’ drive to get every generation talking about our mental health, the climate is not us and them. It’s all of us. The longer we buy into this stereotype, the less time we’ll have to act.

In Other News

We begin our roundup of the other great stories in ageing with this piece from Considerable revealing the growing popularity of the term ‘healthspan’ - a switch by an increasing number of researchers from studying lifespan (how long we live), to healthspan (how well we live).

According to Andreana Haley, a psychology professor at the University of Texas at Austin; “The idea is to make people productive, healthier and happier longer and more capable of taking care of themselves”. Added Tim Peterson of Washington University; “It’s quality of life versus quantity of life,” he said. “It’s probably as simple as that”.

How to achieve that quality of life could be quite simple looking at our next story, which focuses on new research by the National University of Singapore and Fudan University in Shanghai. The study found that drinking tea can “produce positive effects on mood, cognitive ability, cardiovascular health, cancer prevention, and mortality”, and lead to lower levels of depression. With our earlier story in mind, we know for sure being encouraged to drink more tea in Britain would not be unwelcome.

More research now, this time from the International Longevity Centre who studied the spending patterns of older adults. They found that spending by retirees is up and adding billions to the economy, but there are still barriers to tapping into the over 75 market due to “inaccessible high streets, poorly designed products and age-discriminatory attitudes”. Said David Sinclair, director of the ILC; “There are enormous gains to be made by individual businesses and for the economy as a whole if we can unlock the spending and earning power of older adults”. Perhaps we could see a high street renaissance after all?

And we conclude with an area very close to our hearts - building homes with intergenerational living in mind. This article from Curbed Magazine looked at the latest offering from Muji (yes, the high street clothing and homeware store). The Japanese firm have revealed their fourth prefab home with their classic muted design, but with ageing in mind. The single-storey ‘the Yō no Ie House’ has “a single floor that stretches into an open 800-square-foot, one-bedroom layout. A trio of full-height doors open onto a 200-square-foot deck, where a sunken area can be used for a cozy conversation pit or garden”. It sells for $160,000 and is only available in Japan for now, but it signals the intent of large companies like Muji and IKEA - better serving their audience of today, and tomorrow.

That’s it for this month, until the next make sure to follow us on Twitter and #StayAgile!

Image used with permission. Copyright: Alessandro Biascioli