There’s a strange pattern here. We’re surprised by young people who display what we consider to be the kind of sophistication and wisdom that we associate only with experience and age, as well as by elders who display the physical stamina, prowess, and productivity of people decades younger. It’s as if to be young means only to be strong and to be old means only to be wise.
A name can be a powerful thing and I still struggle with knowing the best term for the phenomenon we know as dementia. Can we come up with a name that captures both the challenges and the joys of people experiencing it?
Through reducing the negative, shameful and dishonoring messages so commonly spread via stigma, we can offer instead more viable pollination which hopefully will mature into fruits of dignity.
The insidious thing about otherization is that it is applied to all kinds of distinctions: race, ethnicity, gender, ability, and sexual orientation, to name a few. And, of course, to age.
Agism cuts both ways, discriminating against both the so-called ‘young’ and ‘old,’ and turns these two seemingly innocuous words into pejoratives. When ‘young’ and ‘old’ are used colloquially rather than as they were intended (as comparative markers of time) they become profane.
Like questions about any other topic, the ones we ask about aging and the ways in which we choose to answer them reveal what we believe and care about.
It’s time we turn the tide on the silver tsunami myth and find a different metaphor, one that accurately reflects the huge assets older adults bring to all aspects of life.
I have been advocating that community planners switch to the terms “age-inclusive” and “dementia-inclusive,” as these terms raise the bar by requiring the inclusion of such people in all aspects of community life and planning, rather than simply creating a kind but misguided process of substituted judgment.