Lois A. Bowers

It wasn’t even a year ago that LeadingAge President and CEO Katie Smith Sloan announced that LeadingAge had a new mission: to “permanently change the image of aging in our society.”

“Ageism is working against all that we believe in,” Sloan said at the time. “It paints aging as a disease that cannot be cured. It drives paternalism. It reinforces the notion that older adults are a burden to their families and to society.”

It also affects hiring and fundraising in senior living, she said.

The organization provided concrete evidence of its effort to fulfill its mission on Friday, announcing a new collaboration with Virginia Commonwealth University to develop a video training and discussion guide on ageism for professionals who work in senior living and long-term care. LeadingAge will fund the project, and the guide will be available for aging services providers next summer, according to the organization.

“We need more tools to facilitate important discussions about ending ageism,” Sloan said in the announcement.

Operators already fighting ageism

Of course, many senior living operators already are fighting ageism in their own ways.

One recent example is Juniper Communities’ trip to Burning Man last summer. CEO Lynne Katzmann planned the trip to “write a new story of aging in America.” 

Another example is the former Presbyterian Retirement Communities Northwest’s October name change to Transforming Age, including a new tagline of “live without limits” and a new online forum called “When I’m 99.” Part of the mission of Transforming Age is grassroots anti-ageism advocacy, and the organization said its name change pointed specifically to its focus on changing the perception of age and aging.

And yet another example perhaps is the July unification of ABHOW and be.group under the brand name of HumanGood. One of the strategic pillars of the arrangement, President and CEO John Cochrane told me, will be to reimagine the continuing care retirement community (also known as life plan community) as “a place where we go to realize our highest aspirations for ourselves,” rather than a place focused mainly on healthcare delivery. He anticipates changes in the architecture and design of buildings, programming, the healthcare component and how the company talks about its communities. It’s partly a marketing effort, but more than that, it could reflect and expand older adults’ own views of their capabilities, in the process contributing to changes in perception among others.

Other examples exist, too.

The LeadingAge / Virginia Commonwealth University video training and discussion guide should help unify the approach in the industry and help operators who are not as far along in their efforts.

AARP on board

AARP CEO Jo Ann Jenkins would agree with Sloan’s contention that those who serve and care for older adults need to talk more about ageism and how to combat it.

“We need to change the conversation about age and aging in this country,” Jenkins said recently when the AARP and the Gerontological Society of America announced that they had collaborated on a supplement to the August issue of the society’s journal, The Gerontologist.

The publication, through 12 peer-reviewed research papers, “explores cultural, geographic, community and family influences that may play a role in shaping an individual’s attitude on aging,” the organization said in announcing the issue. Its broader goal, Jenkins said, is “to enlist the aid of gerontologists in helping to change the conversation about what it means to grow older.”

To reach a lay audience, Jenkins herself has published a book, “Disrupt Aging,” that examines how aging is represented in society. Disrupt Aging also is the name of the campaign by AARP to dispel age-related myths; the effort’s website not only has information about Jenkins’ book but also has inspirational stories from or about older adults and more.

And just last week, the AARP launched its TV for Grownups initiative, which will celebrate work being done by older actors and others in the television industry; encourage the creation of broadcast, cable and streaming content that appeals to those aged 50 or more; educate older adults about home entertainment technology; and give awards in 2018. The initiative follows an existing one, Movies for Grownups, that AARP has related to films.

It’s all welcome news in advance of the coming years when aging services providers will face an increasing number of adults seeking care and services and will need a workforce of both younger and older employees who have an accurate outlook and an appreciation of the contributions of older adults.

Lois A. Bowers is senior editor of McKnight’s Senior Living. Follow her on Twitter at @Lois_Bowers.