In geriatrics, we’re no strangers to the misperception that aging is a “personal fate” to avoid, not a challenge and opportunity we all share. So how can we as advocates navigate these public misperceptions while working to spark dialogue, shift perceptions, and build support for necessary changes in public policy and clinical care? We at the AGS are happy to report that a major new body of framing research is helping us take an important step forward.
For several years now, the AGS has partnered with seven other leading age-focused organizations (joined together under the Leaders of Aging Organizations, or LAO) to understand how experts, policy makers, and the general public think about (and act upon) aging. Through anthropological studies and social science research conducted with our partner, the FrameWorks Institute, the LAO has concluded that language (even down to specific word choices) has been a significant obstacle to conveying the advances we’ve made in health care and aging services.
A new LAO-FrameWorks Institute toolkit, Gaining Momentum, takes that research one step further by making it actionable for advocates like our AGS members. The toolkit is a collection of resources to help drive a more productive narrative about how to capture the benefits of an increase in the average lifespan. As a resource for our members, the toolkit can help you refocus discussions based on provocative insights and practical recommendations like the highlights below (uncovered through FrameWork’s research):
Aging needs to be redefined. Widespread negative assumptions about “getting old” led the public to take a fatalistic stance that there’s not much to be done about aging.
A call for justice beats a plea for sympathy. A controlled experiment found that one of the most effective ways to build support for greater inclusion of older people is a reminder that a just society treats all members as equal participants.
Names matter. An experiment that probed associations with current terms of reference—like elderly, senior citizen, and older adults—led to some surprising findings and the recommendation that the field shift to the term older people.
A new metaphor dramatically shifts perceptions of aging. FrameWorks researchers found that by comparing the process of aging to building momentum, communicators open a new way to think and talk about aging—something counter to currently available cultural idioms such as “fighting” aging or the importance of “staying young.” An innovative test of how messaging can affect people’s implicit associations showed that this metaphor reduced ageist attitudes by a remarkable 30%.
The suite of LAO-FrameWorks tools is now available for free at http://bit.ly/aging_toolkit. It’s important to remember that this is not a typical “press kit.” You will notice that the materials are designed for use within our community, to help researchers and clinicians build framing concepts and skills. That is intentional. While you will not find “turnkey” phrases that will revolutionize how you position your work, you will find examples and guidelines that can help you—with practice and over time—continue to work more intentionally and strategically to advance the conversation about older people in the U.S. The examples noted below in the toolkit’s “quick start” guide offer some perfect examples.
Sharing and telling a common story is part of what it takes for a movement like this to drive major and meaningful change. Suffice it to say, sharing these resources is an important first step. Over the next several months, the AGS will be working with our LAO partners to help you better understand these tools and the recommendations they promote. If you’re attending #AGS17, be sure to mark your calendar for one of our first training sessions: “Changing Hearts and Minds—Reframing the Conversation About Aging and Elder Abuse” (Thurs., 5/18, from 2:45-4:15pm CT). More to come soon (including a webinar on LAO-FrameWorks research). Let us know what you think by joining the #ReframingAging conversation on Twitter and here on MyAGSOnline. We’re eager for your thoughts!