Cultural Stereotypes About Aging

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This article is part of The Third Third of Life Toolkit—a collection of resources for ministry to and with people ages 55 and over, brought to you by two ministries of the Christian Reformed Church in North America: Disability Concerns and Faith Formation Ministries.

Jokes about age are as common as fast food in North America—and even less healthy. They perpetuate stereotypes and false ideas about aging in a culture obsessed with youth. How do we challenge these stereotypes in a way that honors and respects people in the third third of life?

The thoughtful resources on this page will help church leaders and others explore the epidemic of ageism in North America and begin to plan for change.

Videos

  • Millennials Show the World What Aging Looks Like. Watch what happens in this fun video when young people let go of outdated beliefs and embrace the idea that aging is not necessarily about decline but about growth. Use this video to jump-start a conversation about misconceptions you’ve had about people of other ages and how those misconceptions have changed once you’ve gotten to know them.

Articles

  • Ageism: A Prevalent and Insidious Health Threat describes some of the real effects of ageism on older adults and explores ways the World Health Organization is working to change those views.

  • “A Reflection on Ageism” (pp. 3-5) in the Faith Formation with Baby Boomers issue of Lifelong Faith does an excellent job of debunking our society’s perceptions about age.

  • Aging Matters: Recovering the Value of Being an Elder names ageism as the most tolerated form of prejudice in Canada and encourages churches to model being a healthy intergenerational community that challenges ageism. 

  • What Age Segregation Does to America describes the history of age segregation and explores ways we can work toward overcoming it.

  • Look Closer: See Me is a touching poem written by an old woman who lived in a geriatric ward in Scotland. It challenges all of us to look past the outward signs of age to the true person inside.

  • Seven Cultures That Celebrate Aging and Respect Their Elders describes how age is honored and venerated in some cultures and compares it to Western cultures, in which “youth is fetishized and the elderly are commonly removed from the community and relegated to hospitals and nursing homes.”

  • “The Challenges of Opportunities for Faith Formation with Maturing Adults” (pp. 37-51) in the Adulthood issue of Lifelong Faith describes the problem of ageism in our society and suggests that the words we use in addressing and talking about older adults have an impact. Author Janet Schaeffler introduces the term "eldering" and lays out five elements that should be present in our faith nurture for older adults.

  • In Aging Matters: Recovering the Value of Being an Elder the authors maintain that the “church has been presented with a critical opportunity to model being a healthy intergenerational community which challenges ageism.”

Book

  • In Elderhood: Redefining Aging, Transforming Medicine, geriatrician Louise Aronson notes that at the very moment that humans are living longer than ever before, we've made old age into a disease, a condition to be dreaded, denigrated, neglected, and denied. In this book she weaves a vision of old age that is instead filled with joy and hope. 

Children’s Book

  • Night Noises by Mem Fox invites a conversation about how our “inside” age may be quite different from our “outside” age.

FOR THOUGHT AND DISCUSSION

  • Identify some examples of ageism you’ve seen at work in your church community. What could you do to reverse or transform them?

  • If you’re in the third third of life, do you notice any effects of ageism on how you think about your own aging process?

QUESTIONS?

If you’re part of the Christian Reformed Church in North America and you have questions about how to strengthen your church’s ministry to and with people in the third third of life, one of Faith Formation Ministries’ Regional Catalyzers would love to talk with you about ideas and strategies.

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