The term ‘ageism’ was introduced by Robert Butler in 1969. The World Health Organization (WHO) describes ageism as the stereotyping and discrimination against people based on their age. Everyday, there are instances where older adults are misunderstood by the younger generations and negatively labeled by the media, affecting their mental health and well-being.
Much like other forms of discrimination, ageism negatively impacts older people. Some might not be greatly affected by ageism but for others, it could result in lowered self respect and lack of motivation. This, in turn, results in decreased quality of life and increases the risk of mental health issues among the elderly.
Ageism is a serious problem because it significantly affects the behavior, attitude and self-esteem of older adults. Further, unlike other forms of discrimination, ageism often manifests itself in subtle ways. The origin of the problem of ageism comes from the fact that human beings are not isolated. We live in a world with other people from different age groups. The society tends to view the older age group as a separate group of people who are less capable. It is normal for seniors to go through a few physical changes as they age, but it is not right to assume that it decreases their ability to go on with their lives. It is at this point that ageism becomes a crucial issue as many older people accept the negative labels of aging that are imposed from the outside, even though their inner image may not correspond to that.
Now that ageism is established as a serious problem, let’s see what we can do to prevent it. Here are a few tips to counter ageism:
1. Spread awareness through creative programs
A 2019 study published by the American Journal of Public Health states that creative and educational programs affect the youth, in particular, with respect to behaviors, attitudes, knowledge and feelings of the elderly. Volunteer organizations spread awareness about everyday ageism and aging misconceptions to stabilize relationships and maintain friendships across different generations.
2. Promote workplace diversity
Approximately 44% of employees report discrimination based on age at their workplace. Ageism has been an issue at the workplace for many years, however, the solution is simple. The companies need to promote workplace diversity by having all employees go through a training module on recognizing ageist behavior and introducing strategies that prevent age bias.
3. Limit negative effects of the media
The media plays a huge part in creating positive as well as negative labels for everything. The perception of any group of people, including older people affects how the group is portrayed in the news, media, on television, film and advertisements. They have millions of regular viewers and this can lead to a negative impact among them with respect to seniors.
4. Aging – a verb, not a noun
Aging is a process we all go through at some point in life. Thus, it should only be used as a verb and not a noun. Using it as a noun is like defining older people.
5. Avoid using patronizing language
Avoiding using patronizing sentences like “he is 70 years young” or “you look good for your age.” Elderly people never appreciate it because even though it comes off as being sweet, it is just a constant reminder that they are aging and it makes them feel older.
6. Describing forgetfulness as an ‘elderly thing’
Whether we are kids, teenagers, adults or seniors, we all forget things. You don’t think twice while forgetting house keys as a teenager or adult, so why relate seniors and their age when they forget something?
Ageism is a difficult and crucial issue for both – individuals and the society, majorly affecting the aging population and their mental health and well-being. We all have seniors in our family that we care about, but sometimes become negligent and careless about how we behave with them.
Ageism can be destructive to the elderly. In fact, negative attitudes toward aging can be so influential that scientists say it may shorten a senior’s life by 7.5 years. Thankfully, we can stand up against ageism with these tips and ensure the happiness and peace of our aging loved ones.