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Fighting ageism, changing attitudes Paul Downey | Sat, Oct 08 2011 12:00 PM

This is a call to action for seniors and the people who love them to take a stand and fight against ageism. Gone are the days when seniors sit on the sidelines and let the young take the reins. Today's seniors advocate on their own behalf. They are reinventing society's idea of what it means to grow old. Seniors today carry cell phones, not walkers. They sit on bicycles, not rocking chairs. Arts and crafts, bingo and checkers have been replaced with jogging, whitewater rafting and skiing. Seniors are healthy, vibrant, influential members of our society.

In collaboration with the Leichtag Family Foundation, Senior Community Centers is launching a countywide advocacy initiative called Seniors First San Diego.(tm) The Seniors First San Diego initiative aims to depict positive aging and build and maintain a strategic network of individuals and organizations committed to combating ageism. The goal is to help seniors effectively advocate on their own behalf.

Seniors First San Diego is a coalition of neighbors, seniors and organizations throughout San Diego County working together to provide quality and compassionate services for the survival, health and independence of seniors living in poverty.

Ageism is defined as discrimination against people on the grounds of age; specifically discrimination against the elderly. Cultural and social age discrimination is pervasive in this country. Ageism is a hurtful form of bias that affects everyone in society.

Living a long, full life is a privilege, so it is important to create a community that respects old age and considers people as unique individuals at any age. Seniors are often poked fun at, ridiculed, ignored or not taken seriously due to their age. In addition to being extremely hurtful and humiliating, expressions of ageism can have severe detrimental effects on the health and well-being of seniors. Seniors with positive self-perceptions of aging live longer and experience significantly better memory and balance.

And there is much to fight for. Currently, 40 percent of San Diego seniors lack adequate funding for food, shelter and transportation. Yet the outdated, official poverty measure identifies only 8 percent of these seniors in need of help, which tells us that half a million older adults in California who live alone struggle financially.

The average monthly income for a senior receiving help from Senior Community Centers is just over $800 a month, not even half of what is needed to have his or her basic needs met. Two-thirds of seniors rely solely on Social Security for income.

Legislative initiatives must be started at the local, state and federal levels. Whether it is the negative influence of the media, or discrimination in the workplace, raise your voice and bring to light the real image of today's seniors.

Seniors, don't live the stereotype. Make your voice heard on issues related to ageism, nutrition, senior housing, senior abuse and Social Security.

The Seniors First San Diego initiative will conduct pilot workshops that will give you the tools and motivation to navigate the legislative system and work with elected officials to effect change.

And younger adults who care about their aging parents and grandparents should also connect with elected officials and voice their concerns to shape legislation that affects seniors now and in the future since, one day, they too will be seniors.

Youth are our future, but seniors are our legacy. When we care for our seniors, we care for ourselves.

To request a workshop for your organization or to find out more about Seniors First San Diego, email Christina Griffith at christina.griffith@serving seniors.org or call (619) 487-0743.

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