Can Ageism—Stereotyping or Discrimination Based on Age—Be Reduced?
The World Health Organization has made it clear that ageism—stereotyping or discrimination based on age—is one of the most “normalized” forms of prejudice today. As the global population continues to age, experts in aging expect negative attitudes toward older people will likely increase.
The Problem with Ageism
The culturally reinforced belief that we automatically become mindless, grumpy, and frail after we reach a certain age is not only inaccurate, it is unhealthy for all of us. When younger people think of older people as incapable, the end result is often the loss of valuable community resources. Instead, divisive ‘us’ and ‘them’ attitudes fester.
When we, as older people, feel consistently disrespected or feel like we’ve become invisible, our health can be negatively affected. A recent Cornell University Study noted that “negative attitudes toward aging contributes to mortality risk, poor functional health, and slower recovery from illness.” In addition, the study indicated that “holding negative perceptions of aging also predicts poor mental health.” When the health of a growing population of older people is affected, that has implications for entire communities such as increased demand for medical and social services.
Can Ageism Be Reduced?
The good news is that Cornell University found some encouraging evidence that ageism can effectively be addressed. This ground-breaking mega study found that two approaches, when used together, can be effective in reducing ageism. One approach involves educating younger people about the realities and the positive aspects of aging. The other approach involves facilitated intergenerational interaction.
What I would like younger people to know about aging includes some of the following:
- At 67, I’m loving my life. I enjoy doing things that are meaningful to me. I keep engaged and try to keep learning.
- I don’t want to be young again. I’ve been there and done that. Each age has its own joys and challenges.
- Getting to the point in life where I know I may only have 10, 20 or 30 years left, has given me a greater sense of what is important to me. I spend more of my time doing things that are consistent with my values.
- I am comfortable with myself – inside and out; this gives me a huge sense of freedom.
- I value learning what younger people think and know. I recognize that many younger people have a lot to teach me and the rest of the world. I also believe that as an older person, I have some insights that can be of value.
- Sometimes people don’t even recognize their ageist behaviors or actions. But those actions are harmful. I believe that I am a person who can stand up for myself and also want to help educate others.
- I would also like younger people to recognize that they too will be an older person sooner than they may realize. We all get there. I would tell them they need to think ahead, stay healthy, and plan for the many years they may have after 50. For younger people, this could end up being half of their entire lifespan.
What do you want younger people to know about aging?