By: Mark Cifarelli, PT

Director of Clinical Content Development

Raising kids is hard.  We are constantly role modeling, correcting, and instilling values and appropriate behaviors.  Just the other day, I had a discussion with my 12-year-old regarding a stereotype he heard about someone at camp.  He was genuinely concerned, and we talked about how to address the situation, demonstrate appropriate behavior, and confront and correct someone who may hold and express a negative stereotype.  But this doesn’t really stop at a young age, does it? 

We all know that negative stereotypes should be avoided, but do we think about that with the population we work with in senior living? Older adults can be affected by ageism which can negatively impact their care and overall health.  Thinking of or referring to this group as “over the hill”, can imply that there is less they can do or that can be done for them. This leads to less care since “they’re just old” and so they are as good as they can be, or worse, “they are doing great for their age” meaning they don’t need any care at all.

A term used in media and other communication is the so-called “Silver Tsunami” of older adults creating a burden on the healthcare system.  This term alone propagates the very idea of ageism. Think about how that is worded. A “Tsunami” implies something overwhelmingly bad, not to mention labeling older people as a “burden”.  The senior living industry has a prime role in aiding society’s shift in thinking from the negative to the positive by focusing on and celebrating a growing population of older Americans who are living longer and healthier lives.

By just listening to conversations around us, we can catch and correct negative descriptions like “dealing with Parkinson’s”, “confined to bed” or “bedbound”.   Correcting and/or modeling more positive and correct terms to describe the medical condition such as “Diagnosed with Parkinson’s” or “limited in mobility” reflect a more neutral approach. Additionally, it is important to avoid terminology that implies subservience to authority such as “non-compliant” or “uncooperative”. Using phrases such as “expressed desire to not participate” emphasizes communication between equals!

The United Nations has declared 2021-2030 as the “Decade of Healthy Aging”, and the World Health Organization has identified 10 priorities to improve the health and wellbeing of older adults. Priority #8 addresses ageism. As healthcare providers in the senior living space, I feel honored to be uniquely suited to model a positive change to reduce ageism in the communities we serve, and through that, the broader community.


Journal of Geriatric Physical Therapy: July/September 2022 – Volume 45 – Issue 3 – p 115-116doi: 10.1519/JPT.0000000000000361

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