Ageism is a little known phenomenon that is becoming more of an issue as baby boomers grow older experts say.
Those same experts state that though elderly are a rapidly growing segment of the population, their needs and troubles often go unnoticed.
“Ageism is the biggest problem in society,” said Cynthia Schlesinger, who specializes in retirement, consumer affairs, and aging with a disability.
Ageism is when someone is treated unfairly or denied basic human rights because of their age.
Gerontologists, those who study aging, are one group that tries to help the elderly.
Gerontology classes are offered at CSUN and the subject is offered as either a minor to undergraduates or be given as a certificate to graduate students, although there is no difference between the two, said Dr. Debra Sheets, coordinator of CSUN’s gerontology program.
In this field of study, students can learn how to care for the elderly physically, emotionally and socially.
There is a growing need for people in this field because people are beginning to live longer, Sheets said.
“Everyone should take at least one class of gerontology,” Sheets said. “With gerontology, you can help others as well as yourself.”
In the 1900s the average life span was 47 years, but by 2030 it is expected to be 78, Sheets said.
The 85-plus population are retired and going to school or beginning a second career, Schlesinger said.
Vera Ward, a lecturer of gerontology at CSUN, became interested in this field because of her experiences living with her grandmother, who lived to be 96. Currently, her father is 92. She lived in a multi-generational household.
Ward places a focus on how culture and language affects the elderly. She also concentrates on how the elderly spend their free time.
“Less than 5 percent of older adults end up in nursing homes,” Sheets said. Thus the majority of the elderly live at home with free time on their hands.
“After retirement the elderly usually have nothing to do,” Ward said. “The elderly population has the largest discretionary amount of time.”
In order to decrease their amount of optional time, the elderly are participating in more activities after retirement such as walking, gardening and taking trips.
“The elderly usually walk for fitness in local parks because it’s inexpensive and their tax money is paying for those parks,” Ward said.
One of the reasons why the elderly are living longer is because of the advancement in medicine, said Louis Rubino, who teaches Health Care Services for Elderly and the mentally ill.
Life is also prolonging because of better technology, sanitation and people are now better educated, Schlesinger said.
Those who were born in the Baby Boomer era are in demand for services, Rubino said. Therefore, those who were born during or just after World War II are now elderly.
“Most of the elderly is at risk for being frail and dependent,” Colter said.
Myths about what elders can and cannot do need to be addressed, Ward said.
Some students are misinformed when entering this minor. Some might believe they are going to study death rather than helping prolonging the lives of the elderly, Ward said.
By 2030 the elderly is expected to rise to 70 million people, twice the number in 2000, Schlesinger said.