The Battle Against Aging Stereotypes

by Richard Ambrosius

Why we create Life Fulfilling Communities®

instead of Retirement Communities?

According to Webster’s II Dictionary

Retireverb, to give up working or serving because of advancing age, to withdraw, retreat, go to bed

Community - noun, a class or group with common interests

Therefore, a Retirement Community is a group of people, who share a common interest in retreating, giving up, and withdrawing from work and service.

It is the culture, not the buildings or services, which make a community unique.

Some wonder why PRAXEIS, the company developing Life Fulfilling Communities, does not use words like “retirement community, resident, or nursing home” in ads and brochures. The answer is really quite simple. We want to counter aging stereotypes by promoting positive aging, and unfortunately, many terms have become negative stereotypes.

If you are doubtful, consider the findings of Dr. Marie A. Bernard at the University of Oklahoma, “Health care professionals tend to believe that older individuals are frail and dependent and that those who are not are atypical.” Despite data showing that most elders are in good health and live in the community, it seems the stereotypes are still more powerful. When being old is a reason to dismiss or explain away a health problem, we seldom look for other causes. Even though age does not cause poor health, the two continue to be confused.

The evidence mounts daily on the devastating impact stereotypes can have on those who accept them as their reality. According to the March 2006 Journals of Gerontology and Social Sciences, “Among 546 people ages 70 years and older, those who had negative images of aging (describing older adults as senile, feeble or stooped) were more likely to experience hearing loss than those who had positive images (describing older people as wise or active).” On the other hand, those with a positive aging self-image live and average of 7.6 years longer than those with a negative self-image.

For older adults to accept the stereotypes as future reality is to threaten their future health and well-being. If there is a single myth about aging that most symbolizes our dread, it is the assumption that our memory will decline in old age. In a stunning study, Harvard psychologist Dr. Ellen Langer demonstrated that it is the near-universal expectation of memory loss that actually brings that fate upon us. The fear of aging is the single most powerful agent creating exactly what we fear. Accordingly to Langer, “As people age, low expectations lead to decreased effort, less use of adaptive strategies, avoidance of challenging situations, and failure to seek medical attention for disease-related symptoms.”

Today’s active and informed older adult population is looking for something unique and different, not the same old culture of golf, bingo and bridge in a fancy, new package. This new generation of consumers is seeking a non-institutional, member-driven culture that counters aging and “retirement” stereotypes. Simply stated, a community that does not feel like what they perceive a retirement community to be.

To avoid creating unintentional negative perceptions, PRAXEIS avoids the use of words that sound institutional or might trigger negative mental images. Managers and operating team members are encouraged to use members instead of residents; residences or homes instead of units, beds, or apartments; and neighborhoods instead of facilities. They avoid using words like senior, elderly, continuing care, or retirement community all together. These are just a few of the words addressed in the growing Life Fulfilling Community Vocabulary to help redefine community living for life’s second half. Our simple rule to combat aging stereotypes is “if a word, title or description sounds institutional, negative, or ageist” do not use it.


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