Confronting Ageism

By by Julie Schoen

In my short time as the Deputy Director of the National Center on Elder Abuse I have felt overwhelmed, frustrated, elated and humbled all in the same day and in no particular order. I have been inspired by those who understand this issue so much more than I do, but I have come to one realization; Until we begin to start honoring the aging process, we will not be able to prevent elder abuse.

Every day we are faced with “Anti-Aging” rhetoric. It has become apparent that there is a culture of fear in our society concerning aging and a disconnect concerning what it means to age. NCEA recently sent out an informational fact sheet generated by a lively listserv discussion. The piece was very well received, but one comment stayed with me. We were sent a response indicating that we should no longer use the term Elder in our publications. As this is front and center in our name and almost all of our materials, I was a bit perplexed. I followed the group’s link and read materials that they offered supporting their viewpoint. I saw hard work and some logic to their materials but I could not get over the concept that the word Elder was somehow offensive. I went to the old tried and true Merriam Webster for a definition and found the usual:

    1. 1 : one living in an earlier period


    1. 2 a: one who is older: senior (a child trying to please her elders)
      b: an aged person


  1. 3 : one having authority by virtue and experience (the village elders)

I, of course, latched on to the third definition. I was brought up to respect my elders. I may not have practiced this in my teen years, but as I have grown and had the privilege of aging, I have learned so much from my elders. At 56, I consider myself proudly in the elder category. We all strive to live one more day, to grow older, to find our way in the morass of resources out there. Aging is challenging, but so is every phase of life, because we are all transitioning in one way or another. Understanding and elevating the concept of aging will help others understand that although challenging, aging is the premise of life and we should all be working to insure a quality of life that our parents, ourselves and our children can embrace.

So this is what I seek to convey in blogging. I know we can elevate the status of aging from something to be avoided to an experience that needs to be embraced, cherished and respected. Through this we can raise awareness and promote Elder Justice so that we can diminish Elder Abuse and expose it so that it is not something that is tolerated and glossed over, but something that is discussed, prosecuted, punished and deterred.

-Julie Schoen, JD


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Special Thanks to Judith D. Tamkin

We are sincerely appreciative to Judith D. Tamkin for her gift to help establish the USC Center on Elder Mistreatment’s website. Her deep and personal commitment to eradicating elder abuse is helping to reshape our understanding of elder abuse and ultimately save innumerable older adults from abuse and neglect.