State officials discuss myths of aging

Scott King, left, a psychology teacher at Shenandoah University in Winchester, talks with Dr. William A. Hazel Jr,, right, Virginia secretary of Health and Human Resources, on Tuesday at the Winchester Active Living Center in Jim Barnett Park. Hazel spoke Tuesday as part of a two-day visit to the area at Gov. Terry McAuliffe's request. Also pictured is Robert Brink, center, deputy commissioner of the Department of Aging and Rehabilitation Services. Josette Keelor/Daily

WINCHESTER — Tuesday at the Winchester Active Living Center in Jim Barnett Park, speakers at a special luncheon discussed unfair stereotypes and myths about the nation’s aging population.

In town for a two-day visit with Gov. Terry McAuliffe, Virginia Secretary of Health and Human Resources William A. Hazel Jr. said it’s damaging for communities to view aging as synonymous with a person’s limitations.

“It’s not about getting old,” he said, “it’s about what you can and can’t do.”

And older adults who frequent the Shenandoah Area Agency on Aging’s Active Living Center have refused to let stereotypes dictate their routines.

Dancing, musical performances and lively games of BINGO and Uno are just some of the activities Shenandoah University students Tori Finney and Taylor Wagner have witnessed while learning from seniors for a psychology class with professor Scott King.

Wagner’s project is about disproving myths concerning aging, and so far her subjects have made her work easy.

“They have a very bright view of life,” she said. “They’re always [having] fun here.”

Finney agreed, “They all have [a] great sense of humor.”

Admittedly, this wasn’t the result Wagner expected. Previously intent on studying pediatric occupational therapy, she said she had not considered working with older adults.

“But now I’m considering geriatric [therapy] ’cause they’re so much fun,” she said. “It’s rewarding. I always have a smile on my face when I leave here.”

King’s goal in bringing students to Tuesday’s luncheon was to help discourage ageism.

“It’s the one type of prejudice that is going to affect everybody,” he said, “assuming that you’re lucky enough to live into your later years,” he said.

But ageism goes two ways.

“We’re really, really tired of hearing about the slacker youth groups,” he said. “We know that’s not true as well.”

For four years, the university has partnered with congregants of the Active Living Center, and he said with a month left in his class’s spring fundraising efforts, students have almost reached their $2,000 goal.

“I want to try to reduce intergenerational ageism,” King said. “I want students to experience friendships and cooperation and harmony and fun and laughter with older adults.”

America’s increasing older population is a challenge no other country has experienced yet, said Robert Brink, deputy commissioner of the Virginia Division for the Aging. Health, health care and isolation are all factors communities need to consider when making changes that better suit their aging populations.

“The greatest myth about aging is that there’s a point at which you no longer become active and involved. You’re proving otherwise right here today at this Active Living Center,” Brink said. “And I’ve seen the same thing all the way across the commonwealth of Virginia.”

In addition to services that Medicare and Medicaid can better provide through partnerships, Hazel said community services are looking to include better transportation options and more sidewalks.

“It really is important that we understand and learn what the needs are as we try to use our resources wisely,” Hazel said. Statewide, “There is a plan for livable communities as well.”

Contact staff writer Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137 ext. 176, or jkeelor@nvdaily.com