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Aging and Wellness

Challenging Ageism

The World Health Organization defines ageism as “the stereotypes (how we think), prejudice (how we feel) and discrimination (how we act) towards others or oneself based on age.” 

Here, we are discussing ageism directed toward older adults. 

While society widely condemns other forms of discrimination such as racism and sexism, ageism remains accepted and unchallenged in many circumstances.

Ageism not only impacts our attitudes, but it also influences how our society treats us as we get older. Ageist views and beliefs can impact employment, health and health care, social inclusion, safety and security.  

Ageism is often linked to many negative aspects of our lives as we get older, such as shorter lifespan, poverty and financial insecurity, poor health, and loss of self-esteem and confidence.

  • Birthday cards that demean getting older.
  • Jokes about ability, stereotypes, accessibility devices etc., because of a person’s age.
  • Speaking loudly just because someone is older than you.
  • Individuals being patronized, ignored, or insulted.
  • Workplace or health care policies that discriminate against older adults.
  • Assuming that an older adult cannot make their own decisions.
  • Older adults being offered different screening or medical treatments than individuals in other age groups.

Thoughtful Activity: 

  1. Identify the first 5 words that come to mind when you hear the word “old”.
  2. Identify 5 words that you hope will describe you when you are 75, 85 or 95.

1. Often these words are negative.

2. Often the self-descriptors are positive.

This exercise can clearly show the bias and stereotypes made about aging.  It becomes clear that while societal norms often link negative traits with aging, many people have a positive personal outlook as they grow older.

To combat ageism, we can learn and challenge ageist stereotypes, prejudices and discrimination.

We can be mindful of the words we use. Many statements that we use regularly are ageist, such as: “I am having a senior’s moment”, “I am young at heart”, “I feel so old”. Or when it comes to birthdays, we hear “He is 80 years young”, “She looks good for her age”, or “I am over the hill”. 

Ageism effects everyone; promoting an environment that values the different experiences and contributions of older adults is essential for combating ageism. Creating a society that values and includes older adults, promotes social connection, fosters an understanding amongst all ages, and enhances the well-being of all citizens will help to build a more age-inclusive and respectful society where age is not a barrier to opportunity and respect.

Aging isn’t a problem to be solved. Or a disease to be cured. … It’s how we move through life, and more of us are doing more of it than ever before in human history. What stands between us and making the most of these longer lives? Ageism: judging, stereotyping, and discriminating against people on the basis of how old we think they are.  (Quote Ashton Applewhite)


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