A new campaign is sparking conversations about aging and senior living in airport security lines and other unlikely spots across the country.
Called “Old People Are Cool,” the initiative is meant to combat ageism and raise the profile of the senior care industry, says Charles de Vilmorin, who started the project. He is CEO and co-founder of Linked Senior, which he describes as a “therapeutic engagement platform” that delivers programs such as cognitive games and music therapy for senior living residents.
For years, he has been saying, “One day, it’s going to be cool to be old,” de Vilmorin tells Senior Housing News. In the fall of 2016, he saw a similar message posted in a public space at the University of New Hampshire. This inspired him to create stickers with the words “Old People Are Cool.”
After distributing the stickers to Linked Senior clients and others for the last several months, the initiative now has grown.
A website for the project includes a manifesto, stating beliefs such as “being old is the purest and most positive experience of human existence.” Visitors to the site are invited to take an “oath” to uphold that manifesto. There also are profiles of older adults, and a store with tee-shirts and other items bearing the Old People Are Cool message; sale proceeds go to the Alzheimer’s Association.
On Sept. 12, there will be an official launch for the campaign, at the American Therapeutic Recreation Association annual conference in Orlando. Several senior housing and care providers already are on board with the project, and say that the stickers are an effective way of promoting morale and culture in their organizations, and that Old People Are Cool could benefit the industry as a whole.
Black Hole in Society
While a student at Georgetown University, de Vilmorin interviewed about 200 people for a thesis about nursing homes, and he had a disturbing realization.
“We as a society are much more aware of how a prison or school functions, than a nursing home,” he says. “People on the street will know more about any other environment. It’s a black hole in our society.”
This is a serious impediment to attracting more workers to the field of aging services, which is facing a serious and growing workforce crisis. Old People Are Cool is meant to start conversations that can improve the situation—when people ask about the stickers, senior living professionals have a chance to talk about what they do for a living.
“My niece, who is going on 13, saw the sticker and said to me, ‘You love what you do, don’t you?’” says Abiola Awosanya, programs manager at Cedarvale Terrace Long Term Care Home in Toronto. Cedarvale offers short-term and long-stay care, with a resident capacity of 217.
Other senior care professionals have similar stories about the sticker helping them present a positive image of the industry.
“It does start that dialogue with people not involved in the long-term care industry,” says Melanie Perry, director of memory care support services with American Senior Communities, an Indiana-based management company of 78 skilled nursing and 13 assisted living communities. “When I’ve told people [about my job] over the years … I get almost a pitiful, ‘that’s so sad’ look. I think the Old People Are Cool campaign helps start that conversation to say, there are some sad things that occur, but it’s not a sad industry to work in.”
Because her Old People Are Cool sticker is on her laptop, she gets into these conversations while going through security at the airport, says Cindy Longfellow, vice president of business development, sales and marketing for Bloomfield, New Jersey-based Juniper Communities. Juniper operates senior living communities in Colorado, Florida, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.
The company has been taken a strong stance against ageism; CEO Lynne Katzmann and Longfellow went to the Burning Man festival last year with a group of seniors, using the event as a platform to spread an anti-ageism message.
“The Old People Are Cool campaign and that manifesto resonated with our mission at Juniper,” Longfellow says.
Awosanya and Perry also say the campaign has helped support the corporate culture at their organizations. Seeing the message Old People Are Cool can be a valuable reminder even for seasoned senior care pros, they said.
“We have seniors of up to 102 years of age,” says Awosanya. “It makes people dig deeper to think, old people are cool, how are they cool?”
Asking these sorts of questions can and should lead to more person-centered care, Perry says.
Borrowing From Vogue
In addition spreading the message about older adults being cool, the initiative is combating ageism in some subtler ways.
“Brainstorming on what is the industry where ageism is greatest, the biggest disconnect between what old people are and what they’re perceived to be, we hit on the fashion industry,” says de Vilmorin.
So, it’s no coincidence that the fonts and other design elements of Old People Are Cool are similar to those of Vogue magazine — the website theme is even called “Vogue.” This is not meant to be a knock on Vogue specifically, but to make a point by spinning the fashion world aesthetic in a way that is pro-aging, says de Vilmorin.
Also, the profiles of seniors on the Old People Are Cool website are meant to challenge the notion that older adults only are cool if their lifestyle is similar to a younger person’s, says Meaghan McMahon, research director with Linked Senior.
“I think in the media, you see people celebrated who are ‘still doing things’ at a certain age — running, hiking, diving out of a plane,” McMahon says. “That’s good, but we also want to showcase older adults generally speaking.”
The phrase Old People Are Cool has been received positively on the whole, but some people have said they don’t like the term “old people,” or don’t consider themselves old, says de Vilmorin.
Those reactions also can lead to valuable conversations about what it means to age and what the purpose of the project is, he says.
Juniper’s Longfellow agrees.
“I’m 56, almost 57,” she says. “I had one resident about my age walk by and say, wait, we’re not old! I said, I think it’s just saying, we’re not 20, we’re not hipsters, but we’re still cool. He said, I got it.”
Written by Tim Mullaney