Guest column: Caring for older residents means moving beyond the ‘e’ word
For the Carbondale Age-Friendly Community Initiative
Pitkin and Eagle counties and the town of Carbondale are AARP-designated Age-Friendly Communities.
We pride ourselves on “Changing the Narrative – Ending Ageism Together.” It is with that intention that the Carbondale Age-Friendly Community initiative (CAFCI) feels compelled to comment on Annie Uyehara’s Feb. 16 article “Valley Life for All: Redefining the perception of challenge among our elderly population.” CAFCI opposes the institutionalized ageism this column typifies.
AARP Age-Friendly Communities value equity, sustainability, diversity, fairness, dignity, and equal opportunity across all age groups and abilities. They embody those values in legislation, regulation, investment, and acts of daily life. CAFCI recognizes that needs and desires change across the aging spectrum. We do not see this as truer for one age group than another. More importantly, we emphasize what every age group contributes and work to maximize those contributions. In stark contrast to this perspective, Uyehara, apparently representing her organization, wrote, “The best way to introduce our elderly population is . . . with . . . resources . . . available to (them).”
Really? The best way to introduce older people is as a population needing resources; happy about the services we get but wanting everyone to know we need more? The very word “elderly” evokes images of frailty. Rather than “redefining” anything, this piece presents a stereotypical picture of older people as infirm and needing help. It is nothing less than demeaning. Frankly, it’s presumptuous of Valley Life to introduce us at all; and preposterous to use County Senior Services as the primary source for generalizing about us, as if that understaffed public welfare agency could possibly be familiar with the broad cross-section of older adults to represent everyone in it. Even more ageist, the piece doesn’t talk about older people at all except for the first paragraph’s second sentence. The remainder is about what County Senior Services provides and how hard they work. Uyehara looks no further nor introduces any actual older adults.
Fortunately, having always been integral to the communities where we live, we need no introduction. We are as diverse and capable as any age group and well able to speak for ourselves. We are your parents, grandparents, and neighbors. We ski, cycle, and play cards, Wordle, and tennis.
We attend congregate lunches, theater, and concerts. We, like many people dealing with life challenges, sometimes need help with transportation, housework, and even personal care. Some of us are isolated, even lonely. Others are wonderfully busy with family, friends, paid and unpaid work, and personal and community projects. We are everywhere on the technology spectrum from wizards to clueless. Early research shows that although we are at highest health risk from COVID-19, we coped better than other age groups with the social isolation it necessitated.
Some of us own spacious homes. Others are homeless or about to be evicted from small apartments. We are a major source of volunteerism. Some of us lack sufficient food. Others dine out frequently. Our patronage helped many restaurants survive the pandemic. We are the most dependable and educated voters. We are active participants in policy-making, from the local to national level. We are 13% of the US population and pay 18% of all federal income taxes. We hold elected offices.
We are artists whose works populate exhibitions and galleries. We are donors to local nonprofits and artistic enterprises. We are performers in theaters, volunteers caring for trails we walk along, instructors, and desk clerks and maintenance workers in gyms and aquatics centers where we exercise and play. We are volunteers serving and delivering meals others eat. We are on the boards of, donate to, and volunteer for many of the organizations that serve us.
And yes, we use resources that are available to residents of many ages, for example: lunches provided by the county; food from LIFT-UP, Valley Meals and More, Meals on Wheels; and all the restaurants, caterers, markets, and shops everyone patronizes. There are senior centers in Rifle and Parachute. Carbondale’s Senior Matters (in partnership with Garfield Regional Libraries and others) offers age-targeted programming. So do some parks and recreation departments. RFTA gives us free rides. The 100 Club gets us together to enjoy the outdoors. Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers, Wilderness Workshop, and Audubon do the same. Entertainment and lifelong learning are provided by local libraries; theaters; art collectives; galleries; CMC; the Community Concert Series; and online programs and classes. Gyms and aquatic centers help us stay fit and healthy. RSVP assists with Medicare counseling and tax preparation.
Americans, like all people across the globe, are living increasingly longer, healthier, and more productive lives. Yet, research by The FrameWorks Institute shows that Americans misunderstand aging, and negative ageist stereotypes abound. Valley Life’s Feb. 16 column perpetuates such stereotypes by virtually ignoring our abilities and contributions while featuring our needs and the county services we get. This is ageism, pure and simple, and as such, it harms everyone who will eventually live past 65 or loves someone who already has. We are reasonably certain that Valley Life did not intend harm. They just didn’t know any better. Institutionalized prejudices are like that.
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