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Framing Aging

Kristin Litzelman, PhD, University of Wisconsin

As Americans are living longer, healthier lives, the country is experiencing demographic changes – in many communities, older adults are making up a larger and larger segment of the population. These changes have substantial impacts on communities, including what services they offer, how they distribute resources, and how they plan for the future. Addressing the needs of the aging population and their families is a critical part of maintaining community health and wellness, and will require the collaboration of many public and private sectors and stakeholders.

A critical step in addressing the aging-related needs of communities is encouraging positive, problem-solving focused conversations. By talking openly and engaging community leaders in conversations population aging, we can help our communities accurately understand why these changes are happening and work towards the right systems and supports that make the community a good place to live at any age.

Recent research by the Frameworks Institute suggests that specific strategies can help open the conversation around aging. Certain ways of thinking about aging create obstacles and barriers to change, and strategies that change the communication frame can overcome those barriers and facilitate effective communication and problem solving. For example, while referring to “seniors” characterizes older adults as “other”, more neutral terms like “older people” trigger an inclusive mindset that facilitates problem solving. Similarly, referencing demographic changes as the “age wave” leads to a fatalistic mindset in the audience, leading them to think that there is nothing they can do about the situation and short-circuiting communication and problem solving, whereas drawing on our cultural value of ingenuity and conceptualizing aging as building momentum expand thinking about the possibilities that accompany aging. By thoughtfully framing the way we talk about aging, we can communicate more effectively and create inclusivity for all members of our communities.

In Wisconsin, we have been working to put this approach into practice by aligning our communication strategies with the best practices created by the Frameworks Institute. We recently updated our Creating Aging Friendly Communities facilitation guide to ensure that we are using inclusive pronouns (“we” language instead of “they” language), referring back to creative values and metaphors, and employing the evidence-based narratives recommended by the Frameworks Institute. This approach supports our efforts to engage with community members to catalyze support for creating inclusive communities throughout Wisconsin.

To learn more about the Frameworks Institute and how we incorporating their reframing aging best practices, you can listen to our recent webinar here.

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