By Olivia Beaton | September 8, 2021
HEALTHTAC West in San Antonio, Texas, kicked off with the panel discussion“Breaking the Stereotypes: Combating Ageism & Providing Education.” This panel featured James Lee, CEO of Bella Groves, Julie Podewitz, Principal & Chief Sales Officer at Vitality Living, and Sanjeev Shetty from Connected Living. As James Lee started off the discussion with, “ageism is the only “ism” that we are all going to experience at some point,” which is why it is such an important topic to tackle.
Ageism is a topic at the forefront of the senior living industry, and it is up to leaders to do the work to shatter stereotypes and empower seniors as opposed to diminishing them. All three panelists agreed that language plays a large role in combating ageism, both in how staff speak with residents, and the words that have become the norm within the industry but may not necessarily be the right approach. Podewitz notes that terms such as “honey” and
“sweetie”, while they may be well intentioned, are extremely belittling to older adults. Lee believes that the work starts within our communities, and that training staff to use inclusive language will have a ripple effect beyond their walls.
Podewitz explains that when two companies merged to create Vitality Living, they made the choice to eliminate the word “senior” from the title. In fact, all three panelists on the stage do not have the word senior in their companies. Small, subtle changes like this are what slowly begin to chip away at the vast topic of ageism and working to combat it. As Shetty says to Podewitz’s point, “that was a choice that we made consciously as a company, to not include any words that contributed to ageism.” Lee goes on to say that it’s not necessarily the word senior that is ageist, but the meaning society has put behind the word and the negative connotations that are harmful.
“We have to be willing to look internally – within ourselves – for change. Ageism, like any prejudice, is fought by speaking up against small indignities whenever we see them. Every person can do this – not just by being against something [ageism] but more so by being FOR something [inclusion],” James Lee remarked.
He went on to comment, “empowering seniors is more specific than just ‘giving power’ to someone. In order to have agency, seniors need a seat and a voice at the table. Even senior living conferences like this one could benefit from inviting seniors onto the stage next to us. We can’t just work on behalf of seniors. We must work alongside them.”
When it comes to seniors and technology, Shetty stresses that technology must be an enabler and full of simplicity. There is a lot of stigma surrounding seniors and technology, but Shetty has seen firsthand the benefits that technology brings to the day to day lives of seniors and their communities. He says, “I think it’s about a holistic approach, there is not just one solution, but always starting with the why is important.” Connected Living has a robot named Temi, that makes technology fun, sleek, and easy for seniors to use. By including them in the conversation, and educating them on the latest technologies, it gives them an even deeper window to life outside their communities and allows them to create more meaningful connections.