Fresh Angles on an Older Issue

We’re getting older. Not just individually, but as a society. This demographic reality is far from breaking news, yet its reverberations continue to be fertile ground for journalists to shed light on the evolving role of older adults.

To stimulate this reporting, the Columbia Aging Center at the Mailman School, in concert with the Columbia School of Journalism, organizes the annual Age Boom Academy, a three-day crash course funded by the Atlantic Philanthropies that brings together leading experts on aging and journalists interested in the issue.

This year’s Age Boom challenged stereotypes and preconceptions.

Age is much more than a number, noted Ursula Staudinger, PhD, director of the Columbia Aging Center. “Health age” may be a more useful than chronological age since 65-year-olds today are very different from 65-year-olds 100 years ago. They look younger, their health is better, and they can expect to live decades longer.

The latest in aging science is showing that it’s possible to forestall age-related physical and mental decline by being active physically and playing an active role in the community. Attitude matters, too. Research shows that having a positive outlook on aging can extend life by seven years. And it’s better to identify with your generation than with your age group, Staudinger said.

Despite these advances, current thinking about the role of older adults is mired in outdated notions. Today’s seniors have few expectations, said James Firman, EdD, president and CEO of the National Council on Aging.

Instead of spending so much of their day watching television orin  other passive pursuits, seniors should embrace activities that will improve their health and help make the world better through work, volunteer activities, or spending more time helping younger people. “We have been given this gift of longevity. We shouldn’t waste it all on leisure,” he said.

Read the full story on the Mailman School’s website.