Researcher Calls "Successful Aging" Form of Ageism

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Many Americans are obsessed with the idea of staying forever young. That impossible desire, say researchers can lead to depression. Since the 1960s, scientists have examined how people stay healthy, independent and productive into old age.

Brandeis University anthropology professor Sarah Lamb said so-called successful aging articles and books tell readers how to “direct” their own aging, and paint disability as “bleak,” and dependence on others as “demeaning.” But much of the aging process is beyond our control, which Americans are loath to acknowledge – a symptom, Lamb said, of ageism.

“Age-ism can mean different things,” said Lamb. “One, it can mean discrimination against older people, not giving them a job. But more profoundly, it's like thinking that old age is very bad and embarrassing. And that's really pervasive in our culture.”

Dr. Anna Corwin, of Stanford University said that’s due in part to the promotion of products that promise eternal youth. She stated, “There's a lot of people making a lot of money with it.”

Lamb is concerned to many aging Baby Boomers may make overly optimistic assumptions about their health and independence in old age and not anticipate how much financial support they will need in later years.

Joaqlin Estus produced this story through a fellowship from New America Media and the Gerontological Society of America, supported by AARP. Also, hear the radio piece on the KNBC website.