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This editorial is the third in a series on issues facing Minnesota’s aging population.

Deliberate rephrasing or rewording of public issues risks the charge of manipulation and deception. The suspected motive is usually political.

Supporters of reframing the debate around aging issues gauged the risk and charged ahead anyway. The risk-to-gain balance came with the knowledge that wrong public perception can stop a worthy proposal in its tracks.

They deemed crucial the work of developing policy, rebuilding the infrastructure, and recreating an innovative service system as Minnesota faces a major demographic shift. By 2030, one in five Minnesotans will be 65 years or older. In one year, 2020, there will be more residents over the age of 65 living in the state than all the kindergarten to 12th graders in Minnesota schools.

Challenging widespread mistaken beliefs and negative views about aging and older people is an important part of the Minnesota Board on Aging and the Minnesota Department of Human Services “MN 2030 Looking Forward” effort. The policy goal of MN 2030 is to prepare and implement necessary long-term services and supports for a permanently older society.

Reactions to the dramatic demographic shift range from end-of-the-world to apathy. The reframing efforts of MN 2030, supported by Washington, D.C.-based Frameworks Institute, advocate for truth and reality about the situation.

Changing the narrative may seem insignificant. But studies have shown when negative messages about growing older are prevalent in a society, stress, depression and a higher risk of heart disease result. Conversely, a Yale study showed positive attitudes about aging could extend life by more than seven years.

Reframing aging requires intention but it isn’t complex. Notable change can come by simply talking about aging in more inclusive terms. Instead of talking about the elderly as a separate and distinct part of the population, it should be recognized that everyone is in the process of aging. Instead of casting the elderly as either exceptionally vigorous for their age or as frail, talk in terms of what healthy aging (for all ages) looks like.

The truth is images, stereotypes and metaphors have significant impact on individual lives and public will.

The good news is that through MN 2030 community conversations, held throughout the state in 2017 and 2018, it became clear Minnesotans want “age-friendly” communities where growing old is embraced and celebrated. They also want Minnesota to be known as a great place to grow up and grow old.

For over 40 years, reports and studies about the aging demographics have inspired Minnesota’s leaders to begin working together to shape the future into one that supports the population as it ages.

Minnesota is already recognized as a national leader in creating robust services and support systems for older adults. Through the collaboration of public and private partnerships, we now have the opportunity to raise national awareness of how to create an age-friendly state.

All Minnesotans are aging so all Minnesotans have a shared stake in preparing a future where everyone, of every age, is treated as equals, with dignity and respect.

Getting informed on the issues and familiar with the current efforts surrounding the aging of Minnesota is important for everyone. MN 2030’s website (mn.gov/dhs/mn2030) is a great resource and a place where you can give input into what you think should be a part of an age-friendly state.

To measure your own personal views about aging, take the Aging Attitudes Quiz on the World Health Organization’s website (who.int/ageing/features/attitudes-quiz/en/). Invite others to take the quiz, too.

Spreading the need for reframing the narrative on aging and supporting steps to becoming an age-friendly state is everyone’s responsibility.

The motive behind all this is simple: It’s good for anyone who is aging. That means you.

— An opinion of the Adams Publishing – ECM Editorial Board. Reactions welcome. Send to: editorial.board@ecm-inc.com.

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