Our Opinion: Let’s revise negative attitudes on aging, giving older residents more respect


Would it be a good idea to …

… better treat older residents of Northeastern Pennsylvania and everyplace else, many of whom potentially suffer because of stereotypes about aging?

The question arises, in part, because of a brief but poignant letter recently received at the Times Leader. Its author, whose name is being withheld to protect her privacy, presumably lives in Wilkes-Barre Township.

“The apartment where I am ensconced is nice but awkwardly located. (No place to visit stores, etc., in walking distance.) Most of the people who reside here,” the letter continues, “spend hours every day sitting out in front of the building, gazing down at a far-away business area – the mall.

“It is a very lonely life. I’m writing only to suggest that people should not discard their elders. There must be other ways to add value to these later years.”

The letter, in a very personal way, crystallizes what gerontologists and others who reflect on the many aspects of growing old have long held: We need to think differently about aging.

Negative attitudes about older people “are widespread,” according to a World Health Organization news release from Sept. 29 that summarized the findings of its massive “World Values Survey.” The organization heard from more than 83,000 respondents in 57 nations.

“Fully 60 percent of respondents … reported that older people are not respected,” the news release stated. “The lowest levels of respect were reported in high-income countries.”

By changing public attitudes about aging, nations can realize social and economic benefits, according to advocates at the WHO. Moreover, people might live longer and with fewer physical and mental disorders.

“Older people who feel they are a burden perceive their lives to be less valuable,” according to the news release, “putting them at risk of depression and social isolation.”

Programs such as Second Wind Dreams aim to challenge commonly held misperceptions about aging, while also lifting the spirits of older men and women in elder-care communities. The Times Leader previously drew attention to Second Wind Dreams, helping to fulfill the wishes of three Valley Crest Nursing Home residents in 2005, but the notion apparently didn’t catch on locally.

What can be done in the Greater Wyoming Valley to discourage ageism and amplify respect for residents who are rich in years, experience and wisdom? How can we collectively, in the words of the letter writer, “add value to these later years?”

Give us your feedback by sending a letter to the editor or posting comments to this editorial at timesleader.com.

Likewise, tell us your ideas for improving the community. Maybe we’ll spotlight your suggestion in a future editorial and ask readers, “Would it be a good idea to …”