Gauging Aging  |  Report on Public Perception of Aging
Gauging Aging |  Report on Public Perception of Aging

Gauging Aging | Report on Public Perception of Aging

AFAR and seven of the nation’s leading aging-focused organizations—AARP, the American Geriatrics Society, the American Society on Aging, The Gerontological Society of America, Grantmakers in Aging, the National Council on Aging, and the National Hispanic Council on Aging—have formed an unprecedented partnership, Leaders of Aging Organizations, LAO, to create a better public understanding of older adults’ needs and contributions to society.

The coalition's first project is the report Gauging Aging: Mapping the Gaps between Expert and Public Understanding of Aging in America, reveals key obstacles to the public’s ability to access and apply expert perspectives in thinking about adult aging.  Based on indepth interviews with a cross section of Americans, the report has been created by the award-winning Frameworks Institute

Breaking from traditional public opinion research, “Gauging Aging” used methods from psychological anthropology to delve deep into connections between attitudes and actions around aging. The report uncovers an important disconnect between pessimistic public opinion and different perceptual reflections from experts and advocates. This communication breakdown may hold the key for reframing how we think and talk about the universal process of getting older.

According to the report, public perceptions of aging describe this process as:

  • Someone Else’s Problem - Instead of perceiving aging as an inherent aspect of development, people tend to focus on “the aged” as an “otherized” group to which they do not belong.
  • Undesirable - The public associates aging with decline and deterioration. A large percentage of interviewed individuals emphasized their belief that capability “faded away” with time.
  • Inevitable - For most, this “fading away” also is tied to a strong sense of inevitability - a resignation to “slowing or breaking down” as a central aspect of growing old.
  • Isolated - A majority of the public perceive old age not only as an outside obstacle or opponent, but also as a personal or familial problem and not a challenge that society shares.
  • Fatalistic - Intimately tied to these perceptions are fears of decline, depression, and dependence. Such fears not only imbue the aging process with dread, but also impede support for policies and solutions that actually address the challenges (and opportunities) associated with age.
  • Out of Sight and Out of Mind -  Fear and misperception ultimately fuel a lack of attention to older adult health. But keeping aging “off the radar” does little to remedy impediments to health as we grow older.

Discover more of the differences between expert and public understanding of aging in America today by downloading the report here or explore an interactive version here.