Posted by Positive Aging SourceBook on 11/18/2020

Positive Aging v. Ageism

Positive Aging v. Ageism

Our society is aging. The United States is in the midst of a significant demographic shift. Unfortunately, the occurrence of ageism is growing just as rapidly as the older adult population. According to the World Health Organization, “Ageism is the stereotyping and discrimination against individuals or groups on the basis of their age.”

Understanding Ageism

Ageism is based on the belief that “old” equals “less”—less active, less important, less engaged, less everything.

Accordingly, using a senior center, moving to a senior living community, or working with a service for older adults would mean admitting that you are “old” or “less.” This toxic belief system prevents many people from seeking out options that could enhance their lives.

In fact, senior living communities and services offer added convenience and an enhanced sense of purpose. They offer more—not less.

Addressing Ageism

It is time to address ageism head on. This is a form of discrimination, and it is not acceptable.

If we accept aging as a natural— and welcome—part of the lifespan, then we can celebrate all the positive aspects of growing older. We won’t look as elders as “others” but as ourselves. After all, we all strive to be older one day. Older adults should serve as an inspiration for what and who we want to become.

Recognizing Ageism

Ageism hides in plain sight. It is often disguised as harmless comments, or it may even be phrased as a compliment. However, comments and behaviors that are based on stereotypes of older people or that perpetuate discrimination because of age are ageist.

Some examples:

  • “She looks good for HER AGE.”
  • “My Dad is 85 and STILL exercises daily.”
  • “She dresses TOO YOUNG.”
  • “He is TOO OLD for this job.”
  • “I’m not old like OTHER people my age.”
  • “We don’t want to be a restaurant for OLD FOLKS.”
  • “I don’t NEED HELP. I’m not old.”
  • “I’ll never MOVE to a senior living community. I’m not old.”
  • “People YOUR AGE shouldn’t _________________”

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One of the simplest methods for addressing ageism is to not allow it or perpetuate it. Don’t make age-related comments on appearances or behaviors. Don’t ever assume that anyone is “too old” for anything.

There is no specific way that older adults should look, act or behave.

Positive Aging Sourcebook is committed to engaging our community in a dialogue that will help reduce the stigmas and stereotypes associated with aging and celebrate the values and accomplishments of everyone. We hosted a series of digital discussions loosely based on Ageism thought-leader Ashton Applewhite’s Consciousness Raising Exercise, which can be found at thischairrocks.com. Several hundred senior-serving professionals joined these discussions to chat about challenges and brainstorm solutions (see sidebar).

Seeing Ageism

During a recent ProAging digital discussion, Wes Morrison, a volunteer with AARP and other senior-serving organizations, recounted how ageism impacted his health. After getting new glasses, he found that he couldn’t see clearly out of the reading area.

After confirming that the prescription was too strong for his eyes, Wes’s ophthalmologist explained, “Our interns and residents feel that if you are 60 and over you should have a stronger prescription than what the machine indicates.”

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These medical professionals ignored the results of a medical test and ordered a stronger prescription based on an age-related assumption. Wes couldn’t see out of his glasses, but he could see that was ageist.

To hear the complete discussion or join a future conversation, visit retirementlivingsourcebook.com/digitaldiscussions.

Sourcebook is also dedicated to minimizing the impacts of ageism through intergenerational programs and activities. The more we can create settings where all ages are engaging together the more we can minimize age-related stigmas. This is especially true in settings that might traditionally be viewed as senior living. We support the efforts of senior living services and communities to encourage interaction amongst children, young people and adults of all ages. Increased exposure will help everyone see people as unique individuals instead of as an “old person” or a “young person.” We are all on the same journey.

We’re just at different mile markers. Ultimately, ageism is a form of discrimination that we all need to move past.

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