Not a Laughing Matter!

Dr. Mary Manz Simon, ALOA Board of Directors

I confess. I’m guilty.

On rare occasions, I’ve joked that, “I’m too old for that,” or “At 73, I’m barely over the hill.” However, there’s no excuse for that self-inflected ageism.

If those attempts at humor reflect any underlying gloomy feelings about being old, the World Health Organization says my health is in jeopardy. People with negative views about their journey as an older adult live 7.5 years less than those with a positive attitude. Clearly, I need to give up my attempt at age-related humor!

Many of us can supply a genuinely funny phrase to finish the sentence, “You know you’re getting older when…” ALOA Board member Rich Bimler continually reminds us that we need to age joyfully.

Keeping life light with laughter can distract, at least temporarily, from some of the challenges of aging that are anything but funny.

We even read in the Bible that, ”A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” (Proverbs 17:22)

Everyone can identify with many of the humorous anecdotes that are printed on greeting cards and appear in cartoons. Humor crosses cultural and generational lines. And if we want to generate a guaranteed laugh, an over-the-hill joke will always work. After all, aging is universal.

Research shows that an aging-induced decline in cognitive abilities can impact both the ability to understand humor and the ability to produce something funny. I was pleased to learn that older men and older women react differently to humor. We don’t respond equally to the irony in a punch line or the humor in a cartoon. That simple fact, not declining cognitive ability, clearly explains why I don’t laugh atmy husband’s jokes!

More research is needed to understand how growing older impacts what we consider funny and how humor can contribute to healthy aging. But in the meantime, we should be aware that ageist humor is a form of discrimination. “Harmless” age-related jokes can be potentially harmful to ourselves and others.All joking aside, that is no laughing matter.

Play Ageism video

Check out this video for more thoughts on ageism and what congregations can do to counteract it.

Take a look at previous posts for more inspiration for older adult ministry.

How SAGY Are You?

Mary Manz Simon, ALOA Board of Directors

Did You Have Any Idea You Were SAGY?

SAGY. Don’t be concerned if you don’t recognize that acronym. I made it up to highlight exciting news: Seniors are growing younger. SAGY is a perfect shortcut to describe this relevant fact of life.

SAGY describes what’s happening to us and our friends. Our functional ability today is better than those who were our age 30, 20, or even 10 years ago. Functional ability characterizes what you and I did this morning:  climbed out of bed, made breakfast, dressed, reviewed the schedule, prayed, and whatever else we did to get a good start. Functional ability describes the activities that fill our day.

Functional ability tests measure and gather information that can be used to plan the support services needed as we age. And guess what? Recent data released from researchers in Finland paralleled previous reports. Among both men and women aged 75-80, muscle strength, walking speed, reaction speed, reasoning, and other characteristics continue to improve when compared with data collected from those who came before us.

When we FaceTime a grandchild, finish a jigsaw puzzle, or chose oatmeal instead of a donut, we don’t stop to think, “I contributed to my functional ability.” But as long as we continue to make those great choices, you and I will be SAGY!

Take a look at previous posts for more inspiration for older adult ministry.

“Usher out gray-haired members?”

Are you shocked by this headline?
Cottage Grove church to usher out gray-haired members in effort to attract more young parishioners.

Published in the January 18 issue of the St. Paul Pioneer Press, this headline grabbed my attention.

The United Methodist congregation featured in the article had suffered the shrinkage experienced across traditional denominations. A complete reset was determined to be the way to grow the Cottage Grove location. According to one member, the aging membership has been asked to “continue maintaining the church until it reopens,” probably in November. “They want us to mow the lawn and shovel the snow.” Another member said, “We are supposed to be silent partners and still give money.”

According to the report, current members, most of whom are over the age of 60, will be invited to “worship somewhere else.” A memo recommends they stay away for two years, then consult the pastor about returning.

Some of us have faced ageism when younger workers are given the most lucrative projects or best equipment. Others have been turned down for a promotion or faced recruitment policies that limit eligibility to those with less than 20 years of experience. The list of examples goes on, but the recent newspaper story was a sharp reminder that the church is not immune to ageism.

I attend an older-skewing congregation, so leaders are alert to seniors who might not drive at night, so few evening meetings are scheduled. Bathroom stalls accommodate walkers and wheelchairs on the stair-free campus.

Outreach to children and families is important, but hopefully all congregations also budget for reaching older adults. With society’s changing dynamics impacting the development of spiritually healthy children, I pray that older adults everywhere are recruited to share their faith stories cross-generationally.

Attitudes won’t change overnight. However, our personal outlook and actions can encourage others to look beyond the numbers, so we all celebrate each day we are given.

We can join with one of the Cottage Grove church-goers who was quoted by the Pioneer Press, “I pray for this church, getting through this age-discrimination thing.”