For too long, the view has been that senior citizens can be put in one of two categories: either they play golf or they live in a nursing home and that sooner or later most will fall into the latter.
As some 10,000 Americans turn 65 every day, this stereotype is becoming less and less applicable. In fact, it is just as difficult to capture older Americans with a simple description as it would be for any age group.
A generation or so ago, when I was heavily involved in what we thought at the time was re-inventing newspapers – little did we know of the challenges that lay ahead – we discussed at length techniques designed to attract young readers. We decried the old belief that young people would be interested in reading a “teen” page.
Instead, the research was telling us teens and young adults wanted to see themselves and topics that interested them integrated into the total newspaper package. They wanted to read about pop culture, movies and entertainment but they also wanted to stay up to date on important developments at home and around the world, especially if they could relate through people their own age.
Our techniques aimed at creating more young newspaper readers were probably too little too late. But the theory that any particular segment of society can be considered as a monolithic, homogeneous group is erroneous, and no more so than seniors.
Many people well into their 80s are leading very active lives, engaged in a myriad of activities from full-time employment to volunteer work to competitive sports. Some have the means to enjoy a busy retirement filled with travel, hobbies and other leisure pleasures. Many others are juggling finances as they look ahead to a life that will likely last much longer than they imagined just a few decades before. And, too many are facing very difficult choices dictated by health concerns, dwindling resources and unsuitable living situations.
It is a diverse group with priorities and concerns that span the spectrum. But they face a society that has for too long looked at aging as a problem to be solved instead of a reality to be appreciated.
Seniors are viewed by many as having done their work, having made their contribution and now they should be content to watch Fox News and have dinner at restaurants that offer early-bird specials.
It is up to those who know the fallacy of this perspective to change it one relationship at a time.
About Kathy Silverberg
Secretary of Senior Friendship Centers' Board of Governors, Kathy is currently a newspaper columnist/ freelance writer, and previously was Southern Region Publisher for the Sarasota Herald Tribune and Editor/General Manager of four New York Times regional newspapers. She serves as liaison between United Way of Charlotte County and the Senior Friendship Centers. She is past chair of the Board of the Punta Gorda Chamber of Commerce, is a board member and past president for United Way of Charlotte County; and, is chair of Charlotte County’s Senior Leadership Council.
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