This week we revisit the topic of ageism, prejudice against people because of their age, the most widespread and socially accepted form of prejudice.
Ageism is subtle; A recent example shows the point. On September 20, 2022, The New York Times reported on a health panel which recommended anxiety screening for all adults under the age of 65. This is very good news. The following is part of the Health Panel’s report.
“The task force panel has not expanded its screening recommendations to include patients 65 and older. There was no clear evidence of the effectiveness of screening tools in older adults because anxiety symptoms resemble normal signs of aging, such as fatigue and generalized aches and pains.”
Fear comes first not part of normal aging. And where is the evidence that fatigue and general aches and pains are part of normal aging? Such a statement reinforces stereotypical thinking, which can subtly reinforce negative stereotypes and, in turn, influence decisions made by family members, the medical community, and older adults themselves.
To take it a step further, if older adults are constantly tired, should they just attribute it to aging? Maybe they have a sleep disorder. And if they’re in constant pain, should they ignore it because it’s part of getting older? It can be caused by arthritis, lack of exercise, or an injury. Additionally, ignoring symptoms and assuming that this is part of normal aging can preclude ways to fix the problem.
The report presents important advances in routine anxiety detection and recognizes the currently limited mental health resources. It’s just this subtle detail about “aging” that can reinforce negative thinking.
There are many efforts to counteract age bias. An example is Ageism Awareness Day, celebrated on October 7, 2022. It was created by EveryAGE Counts, a lobbying campaign in Australia that aims to do this Combating age discrimination against older Australians. We in the US adopted it.
The American Society on Aging, a large professional membership organization, has created an Ageism and Culture Council that is emphasizing Ageism Awareness Day as an opportunity to make a difference.
Here are some compelling facts Council members have identified and supported by research:
- on a global scale, Every second is age appropriateaccording to the World Health Organization.
- Age discrimination and age stereotypes are often internalized at a young age. By the age of three, children are familiar with these stereotypes, which are being reinforced throughout their life.
- Ageism affects our health. Older people who have a positive attitude towards aging live an average of 7.5 years longer than those with a less positive attitude.
- Age discrimination harms our financial well-being. older workers confronted with longer periods of unemploymentDiscrimination during the recruitment process and fewer opportunities for professional development
- Age discrimination hurts the economy. AARP (2020) estimates $850 billion in unrealized gross domestic product gains as a result of involuntary retirement, underemployment and unemployment among older workers.
- Estimated at $63 billion Health care costs among 60-year-olds and older are due to age discrimination. That equates to one in seven dollars spent on eight of the most costly health problems.
- Only 1.5 percent of the characters portrayed on US television were elderly, according to a 2021 World Health Organization report. Most have had minor roles and are often portrayed for their comic effect, drawing on their physical, cognitive, and sexual ineffectiveness.
Here are some words and phrases you may read or hear that have an impact on age. They were summarized by change of narrativea strategic communication campaign to raise awareness of ageism in relation to Research by Frameworks.
- Referring to people in older adult communities as patients; they are residents, including in assisted living settings.
- Description of all older adults as frail, weak, and vulnerable.
- Labeling the growing population of older adults a “silver tsunami,” “grey wave,” or “demographic cliff” suggests that the elderly are a natural disaster.
- And then there is the word “yet”. Expressions like “still working” or “still training” suggest that you are the exception as more adults cannot do what you do. That’s a big assumption.
Many may think we are overly sensitive or perhaps have lost our sense of humor. This debate will continue. However, there is one undeniable fact: ageism persists and harms individuals, society and the economy.
It requires us to examine every accepted path, draw attention to it and offer alternatives. With our increased awareness, we become change agents who can make a difference.
Everyone stay healthy and be kind to yourselves and others.
Helen Dennis is a nationally recognized leader on aging and the new retirement with academic, corporate and community experience. Contact Helen with your questions and comments at [email protected] Visit Helen at HelenMdennis.com and follow her at facebook.com/SuccessfulAgingCommunity