Carol Silver Elliott

Aging and Ageism

We’ve been talking with a variety of candidates about an opportunity that exists in our organization.  It’s the leadership role in our philanthropy area, the person who has the responsibility for helping to raise funds to support our work.  We raise annual funds, we hold special events, we run capital campaigns, we build endowment. All of those are standard issue for fundraising professionals and we have spoken with a number of potential candidates who come from a variety of backgrounds. They have all been successful raising money in different arenas, all with transferable skills that could be of benefit in our world of older adult services.

What has struck me in so many of these conversations was the discussion about older adult services and how challenging it is to make them relevant to a younger generation of potential donors.  Like anything else, many things are not relevant until we need them or have a connection to them.  Most people don’t think about aging services unless they or their loved ones are either in need or receiving services.  But I think that, with aging services, it goes even deeper than that, beyond the level of purely relevance.  It goes to the unfortunate, but very real, existence of ageism in our society.

The truth of that, which we saw so vividly during COVID, continues unabated.  We have too often heard elders referred to as “those people” or lumped into a group that would have you believe and accept that everyone over the age of 85 is physically and cognitively compromised.  Elders are not seen as individuals but as a category and, in many cases, summarily dismissed.

The assumptions are wrong, the language is offensive and the reality is far different than the presumption that it is so prevalent.  Even in just the microcosm of our organization, we have elders who have been, and continue to be, published authors and poets.  We have attorneys who are still practicing, a psychotherapist offering telehealth services.  We have clergy people who lead services, teachers who still engage with children, volunteers who work on a variety of projects to help others.  We have individuals who can match anyone’s knowledge on current events, prepare recipes from their career in food service, who create art that is still being sold.  And even those individuals who may no longer be able to do what they once did, still have purpose and choices and meaning in their lives.

We are all aging. We begin that process as soon as we draw breath and, if we are fortunate, we continue that process for many years and many decades.  But none of us want to become that “old person” who is considered “less than.”  None of us want to be seen as no longer important or valued.  None of us want to be treated as if we are children rather than adults.  If we want the world to be a different one for us, we need to change it now.  We need to realize that our attitudes are not just antiquated but wrong.

The last chapters of life are no less meaningful than the first or the middle chapters.  They are still filled with opportunities for growth and learning and to be of benefit to others. Our goal, as those who hope to be strong and vital elders one day, is to live out those chapters with the same sense of autonomy and self and purpose and fulfillment that we have today.  What will make the difference is how each of us sees aging, that we accept that this is part of life, part of the fullness of the life cycle and we appreciate it in the same way.  Achieving that, ageism disappears and older adults, finally, receive the respect and recognition they so richly deserve.

About the Author
Carol Silver Elliott is President and CEO of The Jewish Home Family, which runs NJ's Jewish Home at Rockleigh, Jewish Home Assisted Living, Jewish Home Foundation and Jewish Home at Home. She joined The Jewish Home Family in 2014. Previously, she served as President and CEO of Cedar Village Retirement Community in Cincinnati, Ohio. She is past chair of LeadingAge and the Association of Jewish Aging Services.
Related Topics
Related Posts