A new book by a University of Arizona researcher challenges long-held notions about how society communicates with its oldest members. The importance of this work is highlighted by the fact that people are living longer, and that seniors now outnumber those under 18.
Jake Harwood’s new book, “Understanding Communication and Aging,” published by Sage Publications, synthesizes the existing research on the subject of age and communication, and also attempts to shatter stereotypes of aging.
Harwood, a professor in the UA department of communication, examines topics such as interpersonal and family relationships in old age, media portrayals of aging, cultural variations in intergenerational communication, and health communication in old age. The book encourages readers to reexamine their views on aging, and to question the messages found in products from greeting cards to anti-wrinkle cream.
“Getting older isn’t something that most people want to think much about, and certainly not something that we get excited about,” said Harwood. “I wanted the book to give people a sense of the complexities involved in getting older: For every bad thing that you can think of in old age, there are also good things.
“I also hope that the book conveys the importance of social processes, particularly communication, in our experience of aging. It’s impossible to understand the position of older adults in society without examining how people talk to, and about, older people, and how we portray old age in the media,” he said.
“The way Professor Harwood ties together theory, research and everyday experience into a text that is accessible, interesting and fun to read is impressive,” said Jo Anna Grant, assistant professor of speech communication at California State University, San Bernardino. “The focus is not merely psychological or interpersonal; the book spans multiple disciplines. This text is the total package.”