By: Katie Holterman


Senior Director of Clinical Programming & Development

When I was a little girl, my father’s friend Koyama-San visited us from Japan. He brought us a Japanese coin and a karaoke machine, the latter of which was pretty amazing to me as a 7-year-old. Karaoke was not yet popular in the United States at that time, but Koyama-San said it was “the future.” Multiple trips to karaoke bars in my 20s would certainly prove him right – but my father’s friend was correct about more than just that. He taught my family and I something important about aging, as well.

At one point during his visit, Koyama-San turned to my grandmother and very pointedly asked her, “How old are you?”

I could tell from her reaction that my grandmother was quite taken aback. She had been raised to never ask someone’s age, especially not a woman’s.

“I forgot in America you are hesitant to discuss age and elders,” Koyama-San said, chuckling. “In Japan, we celebrate aging. The older you are, the wiser and more respected you are. And aging is beautiful.”

Aging is beautiful. Well – I’ll be!

Thanks to my conversation with Koyama-San, I grew up knowing that aging isn’t detrimental, and that it’s something to celebrate rather than fear. But my father’s friend was correct: in the United States, aging is too often seen as an ailment to be treated or a problem to be solved. 

In America, old age is not often viewed as a simple state of being, but instead as the reason things go wrong. Stereotypes around aging are pervasive, and they impact how we view older adults’ cognitive and physical performance, their decisions regarding how and when to engage in certain activities, and even whether or not they should seek medical assistance. There are several conditions which are commonly believed to result from aging, but which in fact do not have naturally occurring associative factors. Society looks down on aging and tends to believe that “old age” is inherently detrimental to one’s health. And our incorrect ideas about older adults have been found to influence not just how we view them, but also how they view themselves. 

If we instead celebrate aging and all the benefits it brings, we can better recognize the physical, social and cognitive needs of older adults. When we do not fear aging, we have opportunities to share in older adults’ experiences, stories and wisdom. We can help the older adults in our lives to take pride in their age – because, after all: aging is beautiful.

S. Horton, J. Baker, and J. M. Deakin, “Stereotypes of aging: their effects on the health of seniors in North American society,” Educational Gerontology, vol. 33, no. 12, pp. 1021–1035, 2007

M. Ory, M. K. Hoffman, M. Hawkins, B. Sanner, and R. Mockenhaupt, “Challenging aging stereotypes: strategies for creating a more active society,” American Journal of Preventive Medicine, vol. 25, supplement 2, no. 3, pp. 164–171, 2003