Stereotypes about aging are all around us. If we’re over a certain age, we can’t move as fast, walk as far, understand technology, appreciate current music, come up with innovative ideas, eat spicy foods, keep up with fashion, or heaven forbid, be considered “sexy.” And that’s just the short list!
Sure, some of these stereotypes have some basis in truth. Most of us can’t bound down the steps like we used to or quite grasp the concept of social media hashtags (or perhaps more accurately, “care to” grasp the concept of hashtags). But just as not all young people are immature and rebellious, all seniors aren’t slow and out of it. It’s only when we buy into these half-truths, as if we had no choice in the matter, that these stereotypes have an uncanny way of becoming reality.
Bottom line, growing older doesn’t have to look like the image society has painted for us. Instead it’s precisely what we make of it.
Take all the seniors who have taken up computer coding, for example. According to an article in The New York Times, people aged 55 and older represent a little over 2 percent of the users of Codecademy, a free interactive platform that teaches programming languages. Not only are these senior coders defying the stereotype of older folks being computer illiterate, but they’re also giving their brains a workout by learning a new skill. They may even get a second career out of it!
Then there are the seniors in retirement communities around the world sharing living space with young people. While 20-somethings and seniors cook, play games and listen to or play music together, they’re getting a peek into the other’s worlds and perhaps even developing new interests. Plus, this intergenerational interaction can help seniors avoid the isolation that can result from only socializing with people your own age.
A few years ago, the Watts Senior Community Center in Los Angeles even brought in a local hip-hop artist to teach seniors about rap music. One of the students, a grandmother of 28, has since formed a gospel rap group and performs for youth. Not all of the senior students in the class were ready to “bust a rhyme” by the end of class or even really warmed up to this style of music; however, they all appreciated the bridge that the music provided to connect with their grandkids and others in the younger generation.