Here is the link to the article in case anyone is interested in reading:
Montepare, J.M. (2019). Introduction to the Special Issue-Age-Friendly Universities: https://doi.org/10.1080/02701960.2019.1591848
As the number of older adults over the age of sixty-five increase in the United States, “students in higher education are rarely exposed to information about aging or interact with individuals” (Montepare, 2019, p. 139). In my opinion, one factor that influences this statement is the theory of ageism. Ageism is the concept of applying notions, beliefs, and statements that are considered unjust and biased toward older adults. For example, in the context of employment, although it is technically illegal to fire or not promote someone solely because of their age, agencies, companies, and organizations find other reasons to not hire, or worse, demote or terminate these individuals. Looking at education, some people may state assumptions and misleading information to make false conclusions that because someone is “aging” means they can no longer remember things, and that means they can no longer learn. I do not agree with this. In fact, there are older adults that are civically engaged in their communities by participating in volunteer and community service activities. I have a couple real life examples. One agency promotes what is called a “Senior Companion Program” in which older adults get connected with other older adults for social and emotional support, as well as to address any personal care and homemaking needs those individuals may have. Some older adults are even participating in Meals on Wheels and delivering hot, cold, frozen, modified, and specific diet meals to other older adults. Older adults can bring a lot of strengths to communities such as being hard-working; punctual; resilient; and creative. What I think higher education should focus on is implementing positive psychology in the fields of gerontology and geriatrics.
Oftentimes, social media and literature has a way of misinterpreting and misrepresenting older adults. I think of the witch from Disney’s Snow White or even Mr. Magoo? And yes, Ebenezer Scrooge too. When you think about those two characters alone, what characteristics automatically come to mind? Perhaps cranky, forgetful, weak, impatient, careless? However, then you have characters like the fairy godmother in Disney’s Cinderella who is kind, loving, patient, supportive, and other great qualities. I would recommend that in higher education, social media and literature should focus more on the positive aspects of aging, not just solely on the negative aspects of aging. As a matter of fact, with Autism Awareness Month coming up next month, the month of April, let’s consider Dr. Temple Grandin. Dr. Grandin is an animal scientist, a professor, and an autism advocate and public speaker. Dr. Grandin does great work for autism communities, and she focuses on the strengths of other individuals with autism. What Dr. Grandin is showing is her civic engagement to the autism community, and she is a positive influence on older adults.
The argument I would like to state is that anyone involved in education and research by attending school, college, graduate school, and so forth should be required to at least be introduced to the concepts of aging in their coursework. One reason is because, “growing older populations will require a general population with more aging knowledge and a trained workforce to provide services to support the health and functioning of individuals as they age” (Montepare, 2019, p. 139). Not only does this apply to healthcare, but this also applies to other areas of society such as, but not limited to: money management; homemaking; personal care; housing; familial relationships; friendships; mental health; activities of daily living and independent activities of daily living; and legal issues. The second reason is that older adults bring years of experience and wisdom from their personal lives as they can share and pass on the lessons and teachings to younger generations, and this is the concept of intergenerational relationships. In fact, “Not only do educational opportunities reflect the interests of older adults, lifelong engagement and experience in higher education has a multitude of positive psychological, physical, and social consequences” (Montepare, 2019, p. 139). The third reason is that we all have family members that are either an older adult now, that are aging, or will age in the course of time. All of us will eventually get older and age over the course of time, and we all need to learn and understand the realities and implications of the aging process, and how that affects the biological, sociological, and psychological principles of human life.
What can our society do to make our schools, colleges, institutions, and universities more “age friendly”? And how can society focus on addressing the interests and needs of older adults in the United States? First, we need to allow older adults to participate in educational and research opportunities. Second, if older adults would like to pursue second careers, for the sake of their mental, physical, and social health, and we should consider analyzing and evaluating their educational hobbies and interests to help them to pursue a second career. Third, to develop groups and programs where older adults and younger generations work together on educational and experiential learning projects to influence intergenerational knowledge; intergenerational learning; and intergenerational relationships by utilizing positive psychology and alleviating, or even eliminating if possible, ageism. Fourth, in-depth research and analysis that includes qualitative and quantitative studies that are not only objective, reliable, and valid, but should also reflect the needs of an aging society in order to determine how higher education should best address the needs and interests of older adults. Fifth, we need to promote a further understanding of the life span and the life course to gain a deeper notion on the idea of longevity, and what aging can bring to society in order to promote creativity; innovation; and thought. Sixth, higher education should allow older adults to participate in their health and wellness programs as well as participate in cultural and sociological activities. Finally, higher education should communicate with the retired community and the organizations that work with the interests and needs of the aging population to receive data and information to determine the quality and effectiveness of helping and supporting older adults in the United States.