Image by Gerd Altmann
It's time to rethink the strength of our seniors. They're anything but fragile. They're stronger, smarter and more resilient than they're getting credit for. And right now, they're an invaluable resource we can't afford to overlook.
Seniors are among today's most powerful leaders and activists — and many are on the front lines. Consider Dr. Anthony Fauci, who at 79 is a model of expertise, focus and composure and has been the top official at the NIH since 1984. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi is 80 and shows no signs of slowing down. Nor does Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who at 87 just wrote a blistering and brilliant dissent that will wind up in the history books.
The grit and strength seniors are showing is revealing just how wrong and misguided ageism is — and why it leaves our whole society at a loss. We need a new way to view this phase in life and to embrace its gifts. And it starts by recognizing the amazing contributions seniors are making. Here are five examples of seniors proving that in the so-called twilight years, they are lights that are shining as brightly as ever:
1. Returning to their fields to give back
The recent call for health care personnel to fight COVID-19 has brought a Pennsylvania M.D, Dr. John Gallagher back as a volunteer just a few months after retiring at age 65. He considers the need greater than his individual fears — and says, "We've got to play our part. We can't leave people hanging out there."
Retired and semi-retired nurses and doctors from the age of 60 on are getting back in action to help. Many are joining through organizations such as New York City's Medical Reserve Corps, which provides surge staffing of trained medical volunteers of all ages.
2. Contributing to the economy
When things return to normal, it will continue to be seniors that contribute to the economy — if ageism is taken out of the equation. An analysis of the economic cost of age discrimination by AARP found that the U.S. economy lost an estimated $850 billion through lost wages and consumer spending because of age discrimination in 2018.
Remove age bias and the economic contribution of Americans ages 50 and older could increase by $3.9 trillion annually, adding up to $32.1 trillion to US gross domestic product (GDP) by 2050. Even as we work to restart the economy in the short-term, we need seniors' contribution.
Get The Latest From InnerSelf
3. Mobilizing on social media
Seniors have taken to social media to spearhead highly effective campaigns. Witness Jane Fonda, now 81, who has been using social media since 2009. She's masterfully channeled it into an incredible tool for activism, gathering hundreds of thousands as she raises awareness with her "Fire Drill Fridays" climate protests.
Recently she leveraged her fame as a workout queen to fundraise for climate change and COVID-19 related causes: she brought back her iconic workouts on Tik-Tok, and is now donating all the proceeds from selling her workout wear to benefits out of work service employees.
4. Inspiring children to become global citizens
Cathy Scherer, 77, became a specialist in international assignments, helping executives and business people make transitions to and out of global roles. Designing influential trainings on international assignments, she saw the importance a global perspective would have in business today. She then turned her expertise to writing books and designing programs to helping the next generations think as global citizens.
Her work is helping young people realize they're part of a planet, not a country — something that will continue to be a critical approach in a post COVID-19 future.
5. Bearing witness against I.C.E.
Gilbert Kliman, M.D. is an expert on children's psychological trauma and serves on a number of major boards. He's also a licensed pilot. He scuttled his plans to "slow down" at the age of 88, when I.C.E began separating children and parents at the border. Instead, he began an active campaign to fight on the children's behalf.
Drawing on his formidable expertise in research, treatment and as a testifying witness in countless court cases, he began providing key witness testimony in the growing case against the U.S. government on behalf of detainees. To reach courts around the country and the U.S./Mexico border, he simply flies there himself.
These remarkable seniors are just a drop in the bucket. They and the formidable talents and contributions they represent are a compelling case against ageism and misguided policies. Rather than isolating seniors in nursing homes — where they may be increasingly vulnerable, not safer, during this pandemic — we need to be inviting them to share their wisdom, energy and activism.
We're seeing that some of the strongest voices in the fight against this pandemic are well over retirement age. They're proof that we need to stop pigeonholing seniors as fragile. They're anything but. Health limitations or not, we need to welcome their power. The world needs them.
©2020 by Thelma Reese. All Rights Reserved.
Book co-authored by this Author
How Seniors Are Saving the World: Retirement Activism to the Rescue!
by Thelma Reese and BJ Kittredge.
In a time when social media make shallow “clicktivists” of so many, the people in our book are true activists. Their dedication crosses all societal lines – ethnic, political, religious, and socio-economic. Some have always considered themselves activists. Some find that this stage of life brings a new perspective that results in the need to do more than say. They tell us, in their own words the what, why, and meaning of their specific activism. Time, for them, holds opportunity even as aging brings a sense of urgency. Their passion and outlooks are fascinating and, in many ways, inspirational. For some, their activism provides one answer to the question, “Why am I (still) here?” and immediate reasons to get up in the morning.
For more info, or to order this book, click here. (Also available as a Kindle edition.)
About the Authors
Thelma Reese is the author of The New Senior Woman and The New Senior Man and creator of the blog, www.ElderChicks.com. She's a retired professor of English and Education, the former spokesperson for Hooked on Phonics, and has long been active in national and Philadelphia-based educational and cultural initiatives. BJ Kittredge is a former health care professional and educator. Their new book is How Seniors Are Saving the World: Retirement Activism to the Rescue!