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Penn State York project challenges perspectives on aging
When it comes to aging, it's all perspective.
And Penn State York hopes to challenge previously held assumptions about age — across the generations — through a weeklong installation, "FaceAge," a six-chapter film following subjects of varying ages, races and economic backgrounds.
In one chapter, "What the Face Holds," older adults paired up with those from a younger generation, and they studied each other's faces.
Face-aging software accelerated the ages of the young people from a photo, and they remarked about their sagging cheeks and wrinkles.
"Will I look like that in 30 years? That's very shocking," one said.
Older adults held different opinions about their partners' aged faces.
"Those are laugh lines, not wrinkles!" said one in response, and others said they thought personality carried people further than their looks — that instead of aging, they were afraid of not living life to the fullest.
"You could see the older people and the younger people comparing themselves," said junior Haley Zimmer, a psychology major.
The young people were concerned about how they looked, and the older people were concerned about the life they left behind, she said.
The contrast resonated with Zimmer, who said she doesn't care about how she ages. It's more important for her to be able to pass on stories of her experiences.
Crossing generations: The public installation is running through Friday, April 13, in the conference room of the campus's Main Classroom building, and older adults are invited to sit in on the viewings and start conversations.
"We use the film as a springboard to have intergenerational conversations about the experience of aging," said Amy Lorek, director of engagement and education for the "FaceAge" project.
Many older adults watching the film are from the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Penn State York, which holds classes and activities for adults 50 and older.
"You don't stop learning just because you get older," said OLLI member Pat McGrath, adding that she learned from the young people attending "FaceAge" as well.
McGrath, 73, said the perspective of college students now is much different from when she was that age.
She joked about one difference, in acronyms — "lol" used to mean "lots of love," she remembered, but now it's "laughing out loud," an important distinction.
History: The aging project is not new — it's been around for about six years, Lorek said.
Penn State Laureate Andrew Belser came up with the idea when he was observing students at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, Lorek said.
Belser envisioned a learning experience across generations, given that many young people were anxious about their futures and older adult populations were often separate from undergraduate communities.
When Belser was selected as laureate, he decided to take the film to campuses across Pennsylvania, so "FaceAge" has been traveling throughout the state for the past year, Lorek said.
She said audience chairs are purposely positioned close to the three large screens.
"We wanted people to feel like they are part of the lives of these people," she said.
Seeing the people in the video up close also shows their imperfections, she said, which is something people don't always appreciate about themselves.
The film runs on a loop for 56 minutes, and viewers get to know the subjects of the documentary over its course.
"We don't really realize things until we see them or hear them," said senior Petyon Schneider, a human development family studies major. She said many of the statements from the old and young clicked as thoughts she had had herself.
Classes: Many students from the human development family studies major also are attending classes leading into the installation.
On Wednesday, April 11, the class focused on perspectives of time and progression.
Students were asked to bring in a photo from their childhood and think about what was important to them then versus now, Lorek said. They noticed that some things remain and some change, she said.
Then they had to envision their future selves, which she said is hard to do.
People often see their future selves as a stranger, which is why it's hard to make decisions that affect future plans, she explained.
Lorek said if people can do a better job of getting to know their future selves now, it will be easier to plan for the future. The takeaway from the class was to give that future self a piece of advice and follow through with it.
Response: Adults ranging in age are leaving their anonymous responses to the instillation on the conference room wall, and many have shared how their perspective has shifted.
Schneider enjoyed watching the film at 21, knowing that she will age one day and should be prepared for that.
"Having an older mentor is comforting," she said.
Apart from grandparents, young people often don't cross paths with the older generation, she said, which makes it hard to know how to talk to that population. She added that they also don't always want to take the time and patience required to engage but that having more interactions helps.
Lorek said she hopes the installation will inspire young people to connect with someone of a different age, especially since the aging of the baby boomer population means there will be a larger number living and working among them.
"We have been approached by different organizations saying the biggest challenge in human resources is the intergenerational communication gap," Lorek said.
"That is what we're working toward," she said.