A recent Fox Business News report that otherwise does an admirable job of discussing the challenges faced by families with aging parents nevertheless steps over the line with the title of its report. While likely unintentional, the title of the story – “Aging parents are the new ‘children’ | Fox Business – is demeaning to older adults who are already fighting to preserve their dignity and overcome ageist attitudes towards them.
Referring to aging parents as “children” instead of simply older adults, or adults with limitations, reinforces negative stereotypes about older people that have been shown to contribute to their poor health and more rapid decline.
A 2015 article in the Journal of Geriatrics titled, Stereotypes of Aging: Their Effects on the Health of Older Adults, discusses several studies that affirm the health benefits of healthy age stereotypes (messaging) as well as the harmful effects of negative stereotypes. For example, subjects primed with more negative stereotypes such as sick, needy, dependent, burdensome, and childlike, were more likely to suffer from memory loss, hypertension, coronary disease, and depression, than subjects primed with positive messaging such as wise, valuable, experienced. Those who were exposed to negative stereotypes at home died on average seven years before those who received positive reinforcement.
Nearly all of the world’s wisdom traditions include honoring the old as a core tenant of belief and practice. Negative stereotypes and demeaning labels such as being called a child does little to bring honor to those whose guidance, advice, comfort, affirmation, and support we earnestly sought for years.
Otherwise, the report contains a lot of useful tips for families.