KINGSTON, R.I. – March 17, 2022 – Increased longevity is one of the most significant social transformations of the 21st century. Today, most people worldwide can expect to live into their 60s and beyond. According to the World Health Organization and the United Nations, which declared 2021-2030 the “Decade of Healthy Aging,” every country in the world is experiencing growth in both the size and proportion of older persons in the population.
While here in America, we are living longer, aging healthier and are more active into our later years than ever before, the aging of our population has implications for nearly all sectors of society. How we view ourselves and others as we age has a significant impact on our well-being. The stereotypes, prejudice and discrimination associated with aging can, in fact, steal as many as seven years from our lives.
On Wednesday, April 6 at 7 p.m., the University of Rhode Island will host Becca R. Levy, noted professor of public health and psychology at Yale University and a leading expert on the psychology of successful aging, as the presenter of the 2022 Malford Thewlis Lecture on Gerontology and Geriatrics. The event will be held virtually.
Levy is credited with creating a field of study focused on how positive and negative age stereotypes, assimilated from the culture, can have beneficial and/or adverse effects on the health of individuals as they age. “Ageism and You: Why It Matters,” will summarize scientific evidence and illustrate how many health problems associated with aging are influenced by ageist beliefs. Levy will share techniques for improving one’s own aging process and confronting structural ageism to create a more age-just society.
“How we think about aging and our perspectives on growing older have a real connection to what actually happens to us in terms of our health and our life expectancy,” said Phillip Clark, director of URI’s gerontology program and the Rhode Island Geriatric Education Center, which sponsor the lecture.
Why does this matter? In the United States, the number of Americans aged 60 and older increased by 34% from 55.7 million to 74.6 million between 2009 and 2019. During this same period, Americans aged 45 to 64 – those who will reach age 65 over the next two decades – increased by 4% from 80.3 million to 83.3 million. These changes will impact the United States on a number of levels – from the number of Americans in the workforce and the consequences of rising retirements; to the demand for goods and services; to the need for more age-friendly environments; to integrated care and improved social programs; to basic family structures and intergenerational ties.
“The United States is undergoing a dramatic demographic shift,” said Clark. “Within the next 12 years, older Americans are expected to outnumber those age 18 and under for the first time in our history. This is the perfect time for people to begin to question their assumptions about aging and growing older and to change the way our society and our institutions think about older people. To recognize them as contributors and partners and leaders in their own right.”
Levy has received numerous awards for her research and has testified before the U.S. Senate on the effects of ageism as well as contributed to briefs submitted to the United States Supreme Court in age-discrimination cases. She received her Ph.D. in psychology from Harvard University and held a National Institute on Aging postdoctoral fellowship at the Division of Aging and Department of Social Medicine at Harvard Medical School. She is the author of the forthcoming book “Breaking the Age Code: How Your Beliefs About Aging Determine How Long and How Well You Live,” published by William Morrow.
The 2022 Malford Thewlis Lecture on Gerontology and Geriatrics is free and will be streamed on the Rhode Island Geriatric Education Center’s facebook (@RIGEC.edu), twitter (@RIGEC_URI) and YouTube channels. Registration is required. The names of those registered will be entered into a drawing to receive a free copy of Levy’s book. For more information, or to register, visit: uri.edu/rigec/special-events-malford.
More information on the U.N. Decade of Healthy Aging can be found on the World Health Organization site.
The Thewlis Lecture is named for Malford W. Thewlis, MD, a former resident of Wakefield, who was a pioneer in the field of geriatric medicine. One of the co-founders of the American Geriatrics Society in 1942, he also authored an early medical text, “The Care of the Aged: Geriatrics,” first published in 1919. In honor of Dr. Thewlis, URI established the Malford Thewlis Lecture in Gerontology and Geriatrics in 2006 to raise awareness, enhance knowledge, and stimulate discussion about issues related to aging, longevity, and health care for older adults.
To watch live: