Quality of Life is Not One Size Fits All When it Comes to Experienced Adults

By: David Boyd Williams
Apr 13, 2017 10:55 AM ET

For some seniors, quality of life is not only a function of how they measure enjoyment and fulfillment in life; it is also about how they believe they are perceived by society in general. Questions such as, “Do you see me as someone over the hill or someone with wisdom and experience?” now punctuate the public sphere. How can the experience of seniors be seen as a value to both their own quality of life and that of those around them? Rather than being seen through a narrow lens, the seniors industry has an opportunity to enhance society’s understanding of the significant experiences that older adults offer.

There is a shift taking place among the population of older adults. People are living longer, working longer, staying more active, and contributing to their communities through volunteerism. The baby boomer population is bringing a new face to the seniors’ community. As a result of this shift, defining quality of life for older adults is changing. Whereas the terms “aging” and “getting old” have negative connotations in many cultures, a new culture and tone in facilities serving the diverse needs of aging adults is emerging.

A new analysis by WHO shows that negative or ageist attitudes towards older people are widespread and negatively affect older people’s physical and mental health. Often in film or television, older adults are played by actors under the age of 40 and portrayed as in decline — and often play unsubstantial roles. While the media’s depiction can skirt the real issues facing older adults, it has a strong impact on seniors; “the humor is often mistakenly assumed to counteract any negative effects on the older person,” according to the World Health Organization’s World Report on Ageing and Health. “Yet,” the report continues, “ageism has been shown to cause lowered levels of self-efficacy, decreased productivity, and cardiovascular stress.”

Negative attitudes toward aging may also fuel two of the top challenges in senior living communities: employee recruitment and retention. The industry is facing increasing challenges as labor becomes more competitive and the aging population continues to expand. Programs like Sodexo’s CARES (Compassion, Accountability, Respect, Enthusiasm, Service) dovetail perfectly, helping hiring managers identify and train top talent who are motivated by an altruistic approach to career choices and a strong desire to make a difference in the world — and especially for seniors.  Another vision to adapt to the future of the industry according to LeadingAge’s CEO, Katie Smith Sloan, is to “permanently change the image of aging in our society.” As the population of seniors over the age of 65 increases to nearly 10 percent of the world’s population by 2025, society will continue to experience demographic shifts that provide opportunities to engage the aging population with new insights.

So, as society continues to evolve, one of the evolutions should be to recognize the value of aging. As individuals age they have an increasing amount of resilience, wisdom and experience to share in the workplace and in their communities. According to Appealing Experience “experience” is a powerful and preferred descriptor for older adults. This is especially true for individuals versus a kind of generic experience that is associated with all mature adults. Preferred descriptors acknowledge accumulated wisdom and life experience. “The most profound finding of the research that we did,” Margaret Mark, former advertising executive for Civic Ventures and Experience Corps, says, “was the discovery of this yearning to have your own personal or professional experience validated, to have somebody out there who needs and values what you’ve done with your life.”

According to the Canadian Journal of Public Health, maintaining and improving the quality of life of [the “experienced”] in the community is an increasingly important goal of public health planning and programming. Therefore, as organizations look for ways to bridge the gap between theory and praxis, it will require a multi-dimensional view of quality of life — noting that while ageism often applies across many diverse realities, the need for improving the quality of life can be very individual-specific. When it comes to older adults, experience matters and the loss of institutional knowledge and insights should be a global concern.