Severe old woman gazing at camera

Why ageism is getting old

Many of us may be guilty. You forget where you put your keys and refer to it as having a “senior moment.” A friend says that they met a 90-year-old for the first time, and were surprised by the their positive attitude. “She was amazing for her age, and so cute!” the friend might say, thinking they are paying a compliment.

It’s a form of discrimination that’s so pervasive it’s hard to recognize: ageism is arguably the last socially accepted and systemic form of discrimination that exists in society. We no longer tolerate discrimination based on race or gender, physical ability or appearance. But ageism—stereotyping or discriminating against people based on their age—persists.

Attractive senior woman opening touching hat.In a 2001 survey conducted by Duke University and published in The Gerontologist, researchers found that almost 80 per cent of respondents aged 60+ had experienced ageism. The most frequently mentioned category of ageism was being told a joke that poked fun at older people, followed by being ignored or not taken seriously.

Other research shows that being ageist can affect your health. In an analysis of the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging on the ageist attitudes of over 400 people 18 to 49 years of age, scientists found that those who had negative stereotypes of older adults are more likely to have a heart attack 30 years later than those who had positive views of older people.

How can we fight ageism? The World Health Organization (WHO) is mounting a campaign to raise awareness of the issue and has published a list of ten common misconceptions on ageing and health. Here are some examples:

Myth #1: There is no typical older person, the WHO says. This is a stereotype that underlies many prejudices and belies the fact that we all age in different ways and at different rates.

Myth #7: Families play a central role, but they alone can’t provide the care many older people need. The WHO calls for training and supporting caregivers, and for governments and other sectors to share responsibility.

Myth #9: Only about 25 per cent of our health can be explained by genes, the WHO says, so it’s never too late to change health behaviours by remaining active and engaged.

Chartwell Retirement Residences is founded on the core values of RESPECT (Respect, Empathy, Service Excellent, Performance, Education, Commitment and Trust) that guide all relationships in our retirement communities, regardless of age, including those with our residents, their families and our staff. For more information about support and living options offered in our senior living homes, click here.