Submitted by rfrazier on
Patricia M. D’Antonio

The Reframing Aging Initiative is generating a groundswell for change – from local efforts to national leaders – to tell a more complete story of aging. This story explains that good ideas know no age limit, and that experience and wisdom can be tapped to benefit us all. And more than we realize, our words matter. Changing how we communicate will change attitudes about aging, and ultimately will advance policies and programs that support us at every age and stage of life. This initiative is powered by research and proven to change how people think about aging. 

All around us, we can recognize the significant life experience and skills older people contribute to our communities. Even though we all age differently where-some of us have more chronic conditions while some of us are spry and run marathons. Regardless of our differences and age, we continue to contribute to our communities in a variety of ways. Volunteers with AmeriCorps Seniors demonstrate this regularly whether they serve as a companion to older people, a mentor or tutor to students, or provide disaster preparedness and mitigation support. 

Yet, misperceptions of older people abound. Our misperceptions about aging are deeply rooted in us at a very young age. It’s the jokes we hear, the birthday cards we buy, and the commercials that talk about anti-aging. In a 2021 survey by AARP, 78% of older workers say they have seen or experienced age discrimination in the workplace. We often do not recognize our implicit biases with respect to aging.  

In a recent survey of Reframing Aging Caravan newsletter readers, we asked “What one underappreciated or overlooked characteristic do you think older volunteers contribute?” Most responses were divided among: 

  • ability to think big picture (21%); 
  • experience working in multiple industries / settings (23%); and 
  • capacity for mentoring younger people (20%).  

The good news is that we can decrease this implicit bias by using well-framed messages that promote a more complete understanding of the aging process. The words we use shape the discussions. How we discuss topics shapes thinking. How we think about issues shapes behavior and leads to improved understanding of the many contributions older people make in society and increased support for programs and policies that benefit us as we age. 

This effort led by The Gerontological Society of America on behalf of the Leaders of Aging Organizations is funded nationally by the Archstone Foundation, The John A. Hartford Foundation, RRF Foundation for Aging, and The SCAN Foundation. Working with our research partner, the FrameWorks Institute, we’ve conducted the research and developed plans to improve our communications’ strategies. This is where you come in. I encourage you to explore the resources and start implementing the proven communications strategies.   

We invite you to join the movement! 

There are small steps everyone can start to take today. Listen to one of our interviews, watch our Frame of Mind video series, and adopt some of the changes noted in the Reframing Aging Quick Start Guide.   

If you want to expand this work in your area, Reframing Aging provides services to support organizations develop good framers, define a local vision for implementing the evidence-based communications strategies, and provide technical assistance to sustain a local initiative. Contact to learn more. 

Changing American culture is challenging and changing attitudes and behaviors around the universal experience of aging is especially so.  Join us on the caravan to improve the public’s understanding of aging.  

Together, we can shift thinking, attitudes, and behaviors associated with aging. 

Patricia M. D'Antonio is the Gerontological Society of America's vice president of policy and professional affairs. In this role, she is responsible for managing the society’s relationships with other organizations in the aging arena, leading major society programs and projects, and developing a strategy for future growth of the National Academy on an Aging Society. She is also the project director for the Reframing Aging Initiative, a long-term social change endeavor designed to improve the public’s understanding of what aging means and the many ways that older people contribute to our society.