August 31, 1997 in Nation/World

Old, Young Face Negative Stereotyping

Frank Bartel The Spokesman-Revie
 

What do teenagers and retirees have in common?

A study by the National Center on Aging found that almost nobody wants to be under 20 or over 70.

“Both population groups are victims of negative social stereotyping, through which we lose track of the diversity of individuals within groups,” says Dr. Charles C. Morrison. He will be a featured speaker Sept. 11 at a Senior Wellness Conference in Spokane.

Teenagers just naturally outgrow the stereotyping.

For those over 70 there’s no escape. Yet everyone gets older. Even Baby Boomers, as some are discovering.

“Medical researchers, family members, politicians and society all tell us,” says Morrison, a Group Health Northwest family practitioner in Spokane and board-certified geriatric specialist, “how we must inevitably age.

“Fortunately,” he adds, “the experts conflict with each other.”

That’s all the wiggle room that a growing number of today’s seniors needs to throw off society’s shackles. As Baby Boomers, who have redefined each succeeding stage of life in America while passing through it, start to enter the ranks of seniors, this most revolting of age groups already is busy toppling traditional expectations of how the “older generation” ought to think and act.

The new free-thinking seniors are deciding for themselves what it means to be more mature and what lifestyles suits them best as individuals, not as a class.

If youth can revolt, so can elders.

In keeping with this change in attitudes, Morrison says, an “internal struggle” is taking place within the annual Wellness Conference, now in its fourth year.

In place of what has been an emphasis on nursing homes and long-term care, a shift is taking place toward exhibits and presentations on travel, senior hostels, and other active pursuits. This year’s program is for those “who wish to remain in control of their own lives,” Morrison says.

An ad hoc group representing 23 local hospitals, health agencies, churches, businesses and seniors organizations sponsors the conference, which annually attracts several hundred attendees. It will be in the Lair at Spokane Community College again this year. “Next year, we’ll probably be in the Spokane Arena,” he predicts, “as we continue the transition to a more upside lifestyle.”

In that vein, his talk, titled “The Good, Bad and Ugly: Facts and Fallacies of Aging,” will offer a light-hearted look at changes we all must face with age and others that need not be countenanced, if we take the proper precautions.

“All the conflicting messages we get from the experts tell us that we don’t have to resign ourselves to what they say,” says this geriatrics guru. “Each of us has a lot of latitude to make a difference in our own life, to decide for ourselves to some degree what our situation will be like.

“As a physician with a specialty in aging, I am impressed that we still don’t know what aging is,” says Morrison. “So many of the things we used to think we knew about aging have become outdated. New research from the University of Washington and other places shows that much of what we call aging comes more from living up to the expectations of society than it does physical aging.

For example, childbearing is said to make women bigger and broader. “Not so,” says the doctor. “At least, it doesn’t have to be.”

Also, it is said that men “age better,” gaining a more distinguished appearance as their hair grows gray, while women just look old.

So how come men die 10 years younger?

“Our culture tells us the 70s are lonely, an age of ill health, negativity, and zero sexuality,” says the doctor. “But most in their 70s find it’s not that at all. Age to a large degree is what we make of it.”

“Notch Babies” responded to last Sunday’s column in such numbers that I am unable to answer all the calls and letters. Sorry. Those wishing additional information may write to: TREA Senior Citizens League; 909 N. Washington Street, #301; Alexandria, VA 22314-1555. Call 800-333-8725 or 703-548-5568.

, DataTimes MEMO: Associate Editor Frank Bartel writes on retirement issues each Sunday. He can be reached with ideas for future columns at 459-5467 or fax 459-5482.

The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Frank Bartel The Spokesman-Review

Associate Editor Frank Bartel writes on retirement issues each Sunday. He can be reached with ideas for future columns at 459-5467 or fax 459-5482.

The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Frank Bartel The Spokesman-Review


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