Insightsthe blog of Porter Hills
Being mindful of Ageism
View the WZZM Senior Wellness segment on this topic.
Jackie Chandler – Porter Hills Wellness Coordinator
What is ageism?
In Western society there are many “isms” that one carefully tries to avoid, such as sexism and racism. No one wants to be labeled sexist or racist. But there is another “ism” that is often overlooked, ageism. What is ageism? Ageism is defined as the process of relegating someone to an inferior position on the basis of age. Think about comments such as, “She’s too old to figure out a cell phone.”, “Traffic is slow ahead, it’s probably some old dude who can’t see over the steering wheel.” Such comments are ageist, making assumptions about someone because they are of a certain age.
Ageism typically involves two things:
- Prejudice: stereotyping someone because of their age.
- Discrimination: being denied opportunities because of age. Age discrimination can happen to the old and the young.
Why does ageism even exist if a majority of us hope to reach a “ripe old age?” What is the root of ageism? It is suggested that during early American colonial times, older adults were highly respected and revered. Older adults within a family held much power because they owned the family homestead and the family land. To ensure financial survival, younger family members had to remain in good graces with the older adults in the family. During the industrial revolution, younger individuals starting earning their own money and creating their own wealth. They no longer had to depend on their elders for financial survival or for words of wisdom.
Our modern society continues to struggle with ageism. What are some factors that contribute to ageism?
- Fear of death. In our Western culture we typically have a fear of death and often old age and death as seen as “one in the same.”
- Media coverage. Older adults are rarely portrayed as competent and capable. Often media portrays older adults as naive, hard of hearing, senile, etc. It is rare to see an older adult in a strong role.
Ageism can have an impact on men and women alike. Older women are often stereotyped as being passive and dependent. Older women may experience a “double whammy” as they may be subjected to both ageism and sexism. Older men are often stereotyped as being timid.
No one wants to be labeled as being ageist.
There are some things that we, as a society, can be mindful of which may help reduce ageist attitudes.
- Because ageism can affect the young and the old, think back to a time when you were told you were “too young” or “too inexperienced.” How did that make you feel? Older adults experience the same feelings when they are told they are “too old.”
- Be mindful of word choice. Avoid “elder speak,” words such as “honey,” “dear,” sweetheart.” Although these phrases may be terms of endearment, they can be degrading to an older adult.
- Avoid the word “elderly.” The word “elderly” tends to have negative connotations- i.e. someone who is sick and frail. Consider referring to an older individual as an “older adult” or “elder” (think of an elder in the church or community, someone who is respected).
- No one wants to be stereotyped. Everyone is unique and special, even older adults. Do not make assumptions about older adults, such as being bad drivers, hard of hearing, senile, etc.
Ageism can affect how older adults view themselves. Ageist attitudes are harmful and hurtful. It is important to consider how attitudes and words can negatively affect an older adult’s self-esteem. In America we work hard to keep older adults healthy. Let’s remember to keep their self-esteem healthy, too, by reducing ageist words and attitudes.