In a society that values youth above age, it's all too easy to accept a defeatist view about getting older. We 50- and 60-somethings find it natural almost to assume that along with some wrinkles, gray hair, and loss of hair that you'll also be less able to hold your own in the mental sphere. Making matters worse is the fact that people start treating you as less capable the older your appearance suggests you are. You get helped with a door by a younger person who has no idea that you can easily deadlift 150 pounds.
The way that people treat you as you get older doesn't merely reflect the aging of your face and body; it also influences the way you actually age. Massey University's Craig Fowler and colleagues (2015) believe that the key to successful aging is to resist ageism and the ageist messages we're exposed to almost constantly in Western society. Fowler and his team proposed the "Communication Ecology Model of Successful Aging (CEMSA)" as a way to understand how we can fight off the stereotypes that can accelerate the aging process and keep us from realizing our fullest potential throughout life.
According to the CEMSA, coping with the aging process is a matter of "proactive coping," in which we create the environments in which we can age most successfully. The model begins with the assumption that we are all uncertain about how we will fare through the aging process. This uncertainty stimulates both negative and positive emotions and it also leads us to communication strategies in which we create "aging spaces" in which we can age more successfully.
To age better, then, you need to invent your own ecology in which you don't buy into ageism. These are the seven strategies that the Fowler et al. advise you use:
1. Feel optimistic about aging. The better you feel about getting older, the healthier you will actually become.
2. Don't fall into the "senior moment" trap. Attributing a slight memory lapse to something ominous going on in your brain will lead you, and others, to see yourself as less than mentally capable.
3. Resist the temptation to tease others about their age: Have you ever sent an ageist greeting card? These supposed jokes about being "over the hill" can become self-fulfilling prophecies.
4. Plan for your future care needs: Don't be afraid to think about, and get ready for, the changes that might affect your life as you age. By being willing to confront reality, you'll be able to tap more effectively into proactive coping.
5. Get with the new technologies : If you take the time to learn how to use email, social media, and texting effectively, you'll both stimulate your brain and also defy the ageist stereotypes that old people can't learn new tricks.
6. Manage being the recipient of ageism: It is almost inevitable that you will be the target of some form of ageism as you get older. Call people out when they do so, and let them know that ageist jokes are as offensive as other "ist" jokes such as those about race and gender.
7. Resist giving in to attempts to be swayed by peddlers of anti-aging products: This is a tough one. It's okay to try to stay healthy but if you're spending your hard-earned dollars on frivolous and ineffective treatments, you're only giving into the most insidious and expensive ageist trap of all.
Fowler and team's initial survey findings based on these seven strategies showed that, as you might expect, talking optimistically about aging predicted more positive affect and greater confidence in being able to manage their own aging. Using communication technology and planning for care were also significantly related to positive outcomes. The other four strategies did not pan out as being significant predictors of successful aging. Even so, this preliminary study could eventually lead to a whole new way of building a more age-friendly society for all of us.
Fowler, C., Gasiorek, J., & Giles, H. (2015). The role of communication in aging well: Introducing the communicative ecology model of successful aging. Communication Monographs, 82(4), 431-457. doi:10.1080/03637751.2015.1024701