Everything I Knew About Aging Was Wrong, Or, Why I’ll Spend a Week Homeless on the Streets of Oakland

Matt Perry and former California First Lady Maria Shriver.
Matt Perry and former California First Lady Maria Shriver.

Everything I knew about aging was wrong.

That was the first lesson I learned when I plunged headfirst into the world of aging as a reporter five years ago.

What did I get so wrong?

We typically see older adults as alien creatures trapped in a foreign landscape separate from our own. We ignore the fact that aging is a subset of being human, and that older adults are turned on by the very same things that we all are: music, meaning, movement, art, touch, connection, engagement, and love.

With expanded coverage, new engagement tools for readers and the launch of our new Aging With Dignity newsletter on Wednesday, January 11, we’ll be opening wide the dialogue on aging to engage our readers in hopes of counteracting the prevailing stereotype that “getting old sucks.”

Pundit Bill Maher called ageism the last remaining acceptable prejudice. Behavioral health pioneer Nader Shabahangi says older adults are often invisible in our eyes because they’re no longer cogs in a rampant consumer society, so he created The Guru Project to celebrate elders as our teachers.

Long-time aging advocate Stuart Greenbaum may have put it best: “We’re all aging. Some of us just have more experience than others.”

Introducing “Aging With Dignity”

Please join us and offer your insights as, together, we herald successes and identify obstacles, all in support of positive aging.

I’ll continue to highlight my favorite people and programs in aging like these from the past five years: Celebrating inspiration over fear, the community connector linkAges is “prescribed” by Silicon Valley physicians to bolster the health of older adults; Senior arts colonies engage elder residents by infusing senior living communities with art, poetry, acting, and playwriting; the city of Fremont uses community ambassadors to reach out to its older adult residents, many of them ethnic immigrants; ONEgeneration fosters unique intergenerational programming; and progressive physicians are fighting the scourge of overprescribed pharmaceuticals.

What else will be featured in the new Aging With Dignity section of the California Health Report?

Video: Next week we will feature a Santa Barbara conference on Accessible Yoga, which expands yoga’s reach to older adults, those with disabilities, people of color, and underserved communities.

Upcoming videos will include a spotlight of Sarah Oliver Handbags, which were lovingly hand-knitted by senior living residents The Purlettes… until state and federal labor departments shut the company down.

Opinions: Aging leaders offer thought-provoking editorials on topics essential to the aging process. Our first two will explore “elder academies” and age-friendly communities.

Immersive Journalism: I’ve long been a fan of journalist Norah Vincent, an “immersive journalist” who lived as a man for more than a year and chronicled her experiences in the excellent book Self Made Man. Building on cutting-edge research on late life homelessness by Margot Kushel of UC San Francisco, I hope to spend a week homeless on the streets of Oakland to explore the reasons for this rising problem, and to try to find answers.

Social Media: Engagement with readers via Facebook, Twitter and the California Health Report website.

If you haven’t already, please sign up for the newsletter. It only takes a few seconds.

Getting Old Sucks?

It’s abundantly clear that existing cultural systems are crumbling and being redefined: politics, economics, sexual identities, and healthcare to name just a few.

The same is happening with aging. While Baby Boomers are rapidly beginnig to reboot the aging process, you can expect a whirlwind of changes to come.

As this happens, there is perhaps no more important task than to redefine aging as a time of opportunity rather than despair.

Two organizations addressing this head on are Washington, DC’s FrameWorks Institute, and the Santa Monica-based Milken Institute’s Center for the Future of Aging, headed by Paul Irving, who will be interviewed for the premiere.

Meanwhile, of course, the “anti-aging” industry will continue to prey upon our insecurities and fear of death by selling new potions aimed at keeping wrinkles at bay or lengthening our life span.

As aging rebel Bill Thomas says, it’s far more important to celebrate our natural life span in the best way possible.

The true challenges of the aging process are often not in aging itself, but how we perceive the aging process.

Please join me as we trek down the path of Aging With Dignity with this new, weekly newsletter.   Please sign up here. The first issue drops next Wednesday, January 11.

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