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Resist, reject those uninformed attitudes

Here’s a term you may not have encountered before: “Consider becoming age-resistant.”

I came upon the concept in a recent New York Times article titled “The Liberation of Growing Old” by British-based journalist and sociologist Anne Karpf, who is also the author of “How to Age.” One compelling reference in her article involved a Yale University School of Public Health class where three-quarters of the large sample of 20- to 29-year-olds “were found to denigrate old people.”  Yes,“denigrate,” which means disparage, criticize unfairly or belittle. I read the article aloud to my husband as we were driving home from a cross-country family visitation.

I was fuming. “What?" I said in an agitated voice, which he did not fully absorb because he wasn’t wearing his hearing aids and also, at that particular moment, trying to navigate a mountain pass. “How can this be? The very people these students are negating are their loving grandparents — many of whom probably helped fund college tuition and bought them their first car.”

And then as I read on, I became even more unsettled. It was reported that one-third of this same sample of youthful Facebook followers advocated “banning old people from public activities like shopping." You might want to read that last sentence again.

I resist the suggestion that I stop shopping.  After all, that’s when I buy my seven grandchildren all their presents. And shopping is valuable to healthier aging. A Duke University study published in the Journal of Neuroscience suggests “older shoppers use an additional brain area to remember competing consumer products and choose the better one. “Memory function is also enhanced by the aerobic exercise you get trekking through retail establishments and the ever-present opportunities for brain-stretching social connectedness with pleasant store clerks and other aging shoppers.

As we inevitably get older, the distance between young and “old-old” in this fast-moving, high-tech society can become wide and deep — if we let it. This is where being “age-resistant” comes in. I use the term differently than many people do because I want it to refer to resisting and rejecting uninformed attitudes — demonstrating in every way possible how aging represents wisdom and storied experience.   

Think about it this way, “Ageism is prejudice against one’s future self.” That phrase alone might be a persuasive way to change negative thinking. As an aging adult, your own vital, engaged life-presence is yet another.

I think “resisting aging” means standing up to phrases such as “gray tsunami” that suggest the exploding older adult population is a pending disaster — when really it's a waterfall of golden opportunity. I think age-resistant thinking is full of “What can be…” not just “What has been.”

In my way of looking at the world, age-resistant thinkers embrace getting older but reject being categorized as “old” because there are so many other better and more appropriate descriptors. 

Sharon Johnson is a retired Oregon State University associate professor emeritus. Reach her at Sharon@hmj.com.