Senior Solutions: Reframing aging in Vermont

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How do you perceive aging in Vermont? What does it look like in your mind? Is it the older lady running the cash register at the super market? Could it be the white-haired man on the highway road repair crew? Perhaps our federal legislators? Do we realize how many people over the age of 60 are working productively in all our communities? Their peers are the answer to Vermont's workforce shortage. I encourage all employers to recruit older Vermonters. That person may not stay on the job for the next 20 years, but will remain as long as the younger employee who is looking to build his or her resume. A workforce of mixed ages is good for any business. The reservoir of experience in older workers is a helpful gift to the new and younger employees who come with fresh ideas to share.

How do we refer to older Vermonters? Now think about the phrase "Senior Moment." Older people are not the only ones who forget things. How many times do you need to remind your teenager about something only to hear "Oh, I forgot."? Everyone misplaces paperwork, car keys, pocketbooks, homework, or a favorite pair of shoes. To ascribe this phenomenon to a certain age group of our society is inaccurate and grossly unfair. This language underscores the way we think about ourselves as we age. We need to use more positive language that does not communicate derogatory imagery.

By using inclusive terms instead of isolating terms, we create a more positive cultural image of growing older. Saying "we" instead of "they" stops verbally isolating older people. Focus on the good things older Vermonters do for our communities. Create intergenerational projects and events for more robust community connections. One of the easiest and most rewarding experiences is a grandparent reading to a small child. Both ends of the human spectrum get joy from the connection it creates. Why? Because it is the activity and human bonding that is the focus - not their ages or abilities.

You say you can't get around like you used to? Don't focus on that. You can probably cook a great meal without a recipe or a box from a company who sends you food and directions for what to do with it! If a piece of equipment breaks down, you can probably find the right tool in your barn or garage to use to get it back in working order. Feeling left behind in the digital age? Take a course, or better yet get a 10- to 18 year-old relative or neighbor to coach you. They will feel good that you respect their knowledge and you learn something without having to take a test or get a grade!

The bottom line is that we are all humans who have talents and gifts and quirky habits to enjoy and sometimes laugh at. We need to appreciate the differences, not mock them. I love the diversity among my friends. These wonderful people have run the gamut from 96 to 4 and I get a kick out of all of them!

As a side note, we are calling out to people in Brattleboro, Bellows Falls and Ludlow to step up and volunteer as a visitor. There has been an increasing demand in those towns and our volunteers are getting stretched very thin. A few hours a week is all it takes to make someone feel connected and not forgotten! Call 802-885-2669 today and say you want to volunteer as a Friendly Visitor. Thank you!

Joann Erenhouse, Esq., is the community relations director for Senior Solutions.

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