Even in Los Angeles, a city so youth-obsessed that Andy Warhol called it “plastic,” there are about a half-million residents who are age 60 and older — a number that is expected to increase by 50 percent over the next two decades. With the city’s emphasis on appearing youthful, how can older adults in this city age well and live with dignity and respect?
Fortunately, there are things that each individual, regardless of age, can do to help create a society that is more tolerant and inclusive for older Angelenos. Here are some suggestions for how five generations can join the effort to normalize aging:
Silent Generation (1925 to 1941): This group includes celebrities like stand-up comedian Bob Newhart and actor Morgan Freeman (whose appeal spans all ages). People in this group, regardless of their celebrity status, can organize and raise their voices to speak out against ageism — prejudice and discrimination based on a person’s age. Advocacy and connecting with people from other generations can go a long way toward changing the conversation on aging. In Los Angeles, Purposeful Aging Los Angeles is one initiative to which this generation can lend their voice in supporting ideas and strategies to encourage multigenerational engagement.
Baby Boomers (1946 to 1964): This cohort can engage with younger people to improve intergenerational connection. By communicating their wisdom, baby boomers have the opportunity to prove just how valuable older adults are to the success of future generations. A campaign by Encore.org is presenting that opportunity. Launched in November 2016, Generation to Generation (Gen2Gen) aims to mobilize 1 million adults over 50 during the next five years to help young people thrive. L.A. residents can get involved to make a difference in their communities.
Generation X (early-to-mid 1960s to early 1980s): Gen Xers’ entrepreneurial tendencies can help create a booming marketplace for older people. There is huge gap in the market and lack of products that cater to people in their 50s or older. Gen Xers are in a great position as soon-to-be older adults who have the know-how to develop products and businesses that provide innovative solutions to the challenges of aging. This group also can collaborate with existing companies to enhance their products so that these products take into consideration the needs of older adults. Aging2.0 Los Angeles, a company founded by Gen Xers Katy Fike and Stephen Johnston, is a great example. A global innovation platform, Aging2.0 is on a mission to accelerate innovation to improve the lives of older adults around the world.
Millennials (early 1980s to the mid-1990s): Known as the generation most actively using digital communication and technology, millennials can spread the message of positive aging in Los Angeles and beyond. Stevie Tu’ikolovatu, an American football defensive tackle for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers who studied at the USC Davis School of Gerontology for his master’s degree, hopes to open care facilities so that older adults can have a better quality of life.
Generation Z (mid-1990s to early 2000s): Generation Z was the first to have Internet technology readily available at a very young age. Given their comfort and familiarity with computers, this cohort (about 25 percent of the U.S. population) can assist their grandparents and other older adults with computer-related tasks. Such connections could improve intergenerational relationships within families and cities at large. For example, an Albuquerque, New Mexico Company, Teeniors offers an example that should be followed in every city. Teeniors engages tech-savvy teens to help older adults through one-on-one personalized coaching. The goal is to empower seniors to connect with their loved ones and interact with their communities and the world — through technology.
These are just a few of the ways each of us can help craft a healthy narrative around aging. There is a lot more that can be done, especially since the Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CAmetro ranked 56th in the Milken Institute's Best Cities for Successful Aging 2017 report. Purposeful Aging Los Angeles is a positive start because the initiative requires city departments to "thoroughly assess the needs of older adults, and directs them to engage seniors to develop strategies that will ensure a safer and more prosperous, livable, and well-run city for all Angelenos regardless of age.”
It is important to remember that in the end, everyone is growing older — from infants to grandmothers. For instance, we ask, “How old are you now?” and answer, “I am 10 years old today.” There is no reason to be ashamed of growing older. And the terms “old” and “aging” can actually be positive if we change the narrative. As actress Drew Barrymore says, “There’s no reason to be afraid of aging, because if you age, you’re lucky! The alternative is death.” If each generation can learn and engage positively with each other, our culture will have value and respect for all people.