Changing the conversation about aging

Reframing aging

People are living longer and, for the most part, healthier lives. We’re also sharing our accumulated wisdom and insights to benefit our communities.

But society has a different view. We are conditioned to focus on the downside of aging. To disguise and avoid most things associated with aging. To internalize negative stereotypes and ageist attitudes. And we don’t even realize we’re doing it.

age·ism (/ˈājˌizəm/), noun: stereotyping, prejudice and discrimination against people on the basis of their age

As the only regional funder focused on healthy aging, Tufts Health Plan Foundation sees the consequences of this thinking almost every day. Ageism creates obstacles to policy changes, erodes support for programs and reduces interest in innovations that make our communities great places to grow up and grow old.

That’s why we got involved in Reframing Aging, a national initiative to change the conversation about aging. Based on research conducted by Washington, D.C.-based FrameWorks Institute and supported by aging organizations across the country, the initiative hopes to change attitudes about aging in America – and forge a new path to more productive policy making.

FrameWorks started with a simple question: “How can the field of aging help build a better understanding of aging, ageism, and what it will take to create a more age-integrated society?”

Their research exposed deeply held misperceptions around aging—that it’s happening to “other people,” that it’s inevitably a time of decline and decay, and that individual choices determine how a person will age.

Armed with this data, the team developed and tested messages designed to counter these misperceptions. Experts in communications strategy and messaging, FrameWorks gave us the tools to “share and tell a common story…to drive meaningful social change.”

Now we had the tools to change the conversation.

But we couldn’t do it alone. We began sharing the Reframing Aging concepts with our allies. More than 2,000 people in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Rhode Island heard about this new way of talking about aging and ageism. Similar efforts are underway in other parts of the country.

mo·men·tum (/mōˈmen(t)əm/), noun: the impetus and driving force gained by the development of a process or course of events

At every presentation and conference, we asked if there was interest in learning more about how to apply these principles. The answer was a resounding yes. And when Massachusetts developed its Age-Friendly State Plan, reframing the conversation about aging was on its top priority list.

This summer and fall we offered workshops and webinars to educate organizations on how to tell a new story about aging. Nearly 350 attended the webinars and 50 joined us for full-day workshops with hands-on practice.

At the end of our workshops, we asked participants: Do you intend to work toward addressing ageism using the reframing tools and messaging you learned today? 88% agreed/strongly agreed

Early indications are promising. Rhode Island’s Office of Healthy Aging, 2Life Communities and Boston’s Age Strong Commission are examples of reframing in action. A recent Boston Globe headline read “Generations mix at a Boston brewery to change the conversation about aging.”

Moving forward we will continue to collaborate with colleagues from Colorado, Maine, New Hampshire and other regions to share resources. We are planning a spring training for community organizations who want to help facilitate this work.

Words matter, and we’re seeing their powerful impact.