Most people will respect, love and care for the older people who are part of their family or those they know. However, this attitude tends to change towards other older people in society. Traditionally, older people were viewed as valuable elders who held great wisdom and insight on life. There are still a few communities who perceive the elderly in this positive light, but unfortunately there are other communities which have an “ageist attitude.”
What is Ageism?
“Ageism” which can also be referred to as an ageist attitude, is the discrimination against and stereotyping of groups of people or individuals because of their age. Ageism does not just refer to the old; even the young can be discriminated upon. For instance, the opinions of young individuals in society may be overlooked due to their age; this is an example of an ageist attitude.
An ageist attitude towards the elderly can be structural and informal. A good example of the structural discrimination of the old is the compulsory retirement age, where at a certain age individuals are viewed as being less valuable to an employer. These individuals are also denied the opportunity to work due to their age.
On the other hand, informal stereotyping of the old may include excluding them from participating in social, political, civic, cultural, economic and even spiritual activities because they are slow or frail. Ageist attitudes primarily portray the old as being sickly, disabled, mentally slow, and physically weak and even “past their sell-by date”. These opinions tend to create a divide between the young and the old in society, whereby the young do not want to be associated with the elderly.
Ageism acts as a social divider between the young and old, and hence, the need to change this attitude. Here are a few examples of standard views about the old and facts that can help you change these attitudes:
The old have mental problems or will eventually be senile.
If your perception of the elderly is that they all have mental issues or dementia, then you are not alone and you are wrong. A general misconception in society is that almost all seniors have memory problems. While it is true that memory lapses tend to be more common among the old, most senior citizens, do not suffer from mental problems. In fact, scientific research indicates that psychological problems decrease with age. You’re probably thinking “they forget a lot.” Yes, most old people tend to forget a lot of things but think about how much information and knowledge they have gained over the years, and you will realize that they also have a lot of wisdom.
This misconception is fueled by the fact that dementia is more prevalent among the old. However, dementia should not be confused with aging problems such as forgetfulness. Dementia has its own severe symptoms such as difficulty in making full sentences, not recognizing people even family members and more. The fact is that most seniors are able to manage their finances, they can manage their day-to-day lives without help, and even others have great cognitive ability. When you look around even in movies you are likely to see an elderly person acting as the “god father” or the matriarch.
The old are Helpless.
The fact is, not all seniors are as energetic as the younger generations, but this does not mean that they are helpless. As all creatures age they are bound to become less energetic than they were. That is why seniors cannot move as fast as they used to but this does not make them helpless. If and when given a chance the old members of society can take an active role in participating in community events such as charity runs and even volunteer activities. In fact, you should try and invite a senior to participate in a community event with you. You will have so much fun, you will have done something good and you would have made the senior a much happier person.
The old have outlived their “expiry date”.
It is a typical ageist attitude to assume that the old have outlived their “sell-by date” and are, therefore, less productive in the workplace and in the general society. While it might be true that the old experience a slight decline in information processing, most of the old still retain excellent mental competence and even learning abilities. In fact, the experience of an older individual who has worked in a particular field for years cannot be matched with the experience of a young profession. The old can, therefore, be an invaluable asset to any organization.
“It is not Illness; it is age.”
One other prevalent ageist attitude that you have probably thought about is that “the old do not get sick”, or they do not deserve health care because every ache or pain they experience is perceived as being a “normal part of ageing.” This is a huge misconception because while ageing reduces the body’s ability to fight illness, because of this the old are more susceptible to some diseases. So, the same way you can get sick is the same way the elderly get sick, and they therefore, deserve the same health care you would have gotten.
When the old get access to proper healthcare, they can be a valuable part of society and even participate in community activities. Just the same way you would not like to live in pain, is the same way the elderly feel, so the next time you hear an elderly person complaining about pain, make sure they visit a doctor.
Positive age stereotypes versus negative age stereotypes.
Studies indicate that when the seniors in society are exposed to positive stereotypes, they are more healthy and happier than those exposed to negative age stereotype. In fact, blood pressure and increased heart problems were evidenced in those that experienced negative ageist attitude more than those who were exposed to positive age attitudes.
In addition, research indicates that those individuals who hold ageist attitudes were at a higher risk of experiencing heart conditions later in life than those who hold a positive age stereotype. So, do yourself a favor and change your ageist attitude if you have a negative one.
Changing your ageist attitude starts when you accept the fact that ageing is a part of life, and that by changing your attitude today you are doing your “future self” justice. So, start by changing the way you perceive the older people in society: instead of looking at them as “old people,” see them as a valuable part of “our community”.
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