Throughout the history of civilization communities have relied heavily on the experience and wisdom of their elders. Elders sat in councils and were responsible for decision-making, planning the future of their communities, and acted as masters of ceremonies for community events. They were held in high regard for their years of experience. Council life was always a serious endeavor and sometimes days and nights were spent in a council circle deciding important community matters. Elders were also charged with the sacred verbal recital of community history, religious traditions, and warrior legends.
Aging in America has become painful and I’m not referring to the kind of pain we all too often see in our pharmaceutical commercials. Losing status is painful. When an elder says “I’m too old for that” he or she is discriminating against himself or herself and is perpetuating a common form of discrimination called “ageism”.
As our elders do less for others their social networks shrink and an increasing sense of powerlessness and irrelevance sets into their minds further exacerbates aging difficulties. Being elderly has come to be synonymous with frailty, loss, senility, disease and isolation. This is known as ageism. Ageism is a negative prejudgment about being elderly.
As the elderly grow in number over the coming years we will be facing the challenges of responding to the needs of our elderly. One successful strategy for healthy aging is keeping seniors involved in their communities. Active engagement with people increases their personal fulfillment as they continue to work as vital members in our society. What if it doesn’t have to be like this? What if health and vibrancy isn’t a commodity reserved exclusively for youth? What if simple changes in our thought patterns could change the course and loss of history? What if we turn ageism on its head and get back to a time when our elders are a necessary part of our communities?