Don’t Call Grandparents “Senior Citizens”

Adult Day

Posted: August 21, 2018

Exactly 30 years ago, Ronald Reagan declared August 21st as National Senior Citizens Day. At the time, this proclamation represented a sweeping movement over the past decades to honor and support America’s older population.

But times have changed. Today, our calendars are cluttered with so-called “national” days for everything from scrabble to pizza.

“There are so many that we’ve basically become a Hallmark society,” points out Cindy Hogan, former Vice President of Operations for Christian Living Communities (CLC), a local company that manages several senior communities and services including Holly Creek Retirement Community in Centennial.

Nobody really wants another special day to try and remember. As it turns out, older adults no longer want a “Senior Citizens” one either.

Cindy Hogan started studying gerontology—the process of aging—in the 1980s and was right at the front end of a host of changes to the senior care industry. She explained that the announcement of Senior Citizens Day fit within the cultural shift of that time, but the “senior citizen” terminology no longer jives for many older Americans.

“Everything has changed in our field since that time, including the seniors themselves,” Hogan said. “My perspective has changed dramatically—I’m now a baby boomer. I don’t think labels should be overemphasized, but we do have to be flexible to changing sentiment over time.”

Meanwhile, there is a new generation facing questions about how to support the state’s expanding number of older baby boomers. In a world of increasing mobility, especially to growing states like Colorado, many of these younger Americans haven’t been able to grow up close to grandparents or older community members. This separation offers the perfect opportunity for “ageism”—or prejudice against getting older. Ageism tends to base itself on false assumptions that older people can’t use technology, learn, etc. and has serious negative effects not only for their self-image and independence, but also for a society in general.

In addition, younger Coloradans are living in “a really challenging time—enormous housing costs and college debt—challenges that didn’t affect my generation,” Hogan explained. The solution? “We need more dialogue between generations.”

Christian Living Communities is actively working to start this important dialogue and dispel the myths of ageism. For communities like Holly Creek Retirement Community, this can be as simple as bringing different generations together. Through unique community opportunities like building cardboard boats for the regatta this August or writing back and forth through Holly Creek’s annual pen pal program, older adults and younger generations are bridging the age gap with remarkable success.

For Hogan, “these experiences are always extraordinary to watch,” and offer those involved with an important refocus. Senior care leaders like Hogan do encourage changing the name of Senior Citizens Day to include “older adults” in the title. They really aren’t so concerned, though, about the name as they are with helping younger Coloradans to notice, understand and appreciate why a name change might be needed.

“We’re really good at honoring our veterans,” Hogan explained, “but we’re not so good at honoring those who have contributed over the years to our society. Just like these programs, I think August 21st offers us a moment to stop, honor and consider how we’re going to continue to support those who have worked and contributed to building our nation into what it is today.”

Written by Bryn Phinney, who writes for Holly Creek. This story originally appeared in Denver Post’s YourHub and is used with permission.

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