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Ageism in America: What We Get Wrong About Older Adults

Ageism in America: What We Get Wrong About Older Adults

The American population is getting older. 2020 Census data indicates that between 2010 and 2020, the number of people over the age of 55 grew by almost a third, most of whom are Baby Boomers.

At the same time, investment in services for our older population has expanded as technology for seniors and the continuum of senior care improves. 

Yet misconceptions about – and mistreatment of – this rapidly growing demographic abound. Conversations about age-related issues in America often focus on ageism in the workplace and end-of-life care in hospice or nursing homes. What about the decades between?

We should address the needs and well-being of seniors with the same urgency we do every other age group. As our country’s population gets older, here’s how we can combat ageism by investing in the right care and technology for seniors.

Ageism Takes a Toll on Older Adults’ Health

Giving older adults the respect and care they deserve isn’t just the right thing to do; it can help them live healthier, longer lives.

A study at Yale School of Public Health found that ageism – both the negative treatment of older adults and their own internalized stereotypes – can adversely affect health outcomes. That results in a hefty health care price tag: of the ten most expensive health conditions of people over 60, including cardiovascular and chronic respiratory disease, the one-year cost of ageism was $63 billion, or one of every seven dollars spent.

Negative self-perceptions, as the study explains, can cause detrimental health behaviors over time, like noncompliance with medications, and they can even change the way the brain works decades later.

Adults who have experienced ageism in the workplace are likely familiar with the emotional cost of discrimination. As those adults experience unfair treatment in health care institutions, that stress can exacerbate physical health over time.

The charge to tackle ageism bias in this country, then, isn’t just on employers – it’s on everyone who interacts with and cares for older people.

Technology for Older Adults Is Undervalued in the Digital Health Boom

The digital health market is estimated to be worth nearly $660 billion by 2025. Yet much of the buzz around the digital health care revolution focuses on health and wellness services designed for younger people.

Health care technology for older adults is a key part of that market, but people in the ecosystem – investors and startup founders – tend to overlook this large segment of their consumer base in favor of Gen Z and Millennial users.

But there’s quietly growing investment in technology for seniors that reframes the narrative around how we age and focuses on giving improved older adults autonomy and access through digital tools. Apps for seniors can support everything from finding intergenerational friendships to conducting at-home health exams to voice technology for older adults

Many older adults today are incredibly tech-savvy, from the Silent Generation to Baby Boomers to the aging Gen X. If they didn’t already have them, many people in these groups established daily tech routines during the pandemic.

Now they’re looking for senior living that can match or enhance their current lifestyles. And all of them, especially the individualistic, self-reliant Gen X cohort, want to use technology that treats them with empathy and respect.

Beyond Nursing Homes: The Senior Care Continuum Is an Extension of Older Adults’ Current Lifestyles

Between aging in place and a nursing home or skilled nursing facility, there are many different options for a range of older adults’ needs and preferences: continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs), independent living, assisted living, memory care.

But adult children sometimes put off discussions about moving their parents into senior living because of negative associations with nursing homes. Many older adults, too, don’t realize nursing homes aren’t the only option they have.

Retired adults who don’t have any pressing health reasons to move into a community with nurse staff, for instance, can benefit tremendously from independent living communities. These private suites and apartments give older adults complete independence in addition to access to social activities and community programming.

And the umbrella of living options for older adults will likely continue to expand in the coming years.

Communities have a role to play in educating the public about the range of options seniors have after retirement. By marketing their services to older adults and their families as tech-forward, inclusive, and engaging living options, communities can spread the word that life after retirement doesn’t need to look all that different.

The Future of Aging in America: Choice, Respect, and Dignity

From innovative apps for seniors to communities that feel like home, the next generation of people in their golden years will have many options to find the support they need to continue to live life on their own terms.

To learn about how Caremerge’s tech solutions support dignified aging in senior living,

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