Breaking the chains of age discrimination

October 11, 2023
Tiffany Robb, Division of Public Health

Ageism is a subtle yet pervasive bias that infiltrates our lives, often without us even realizing it. It’s a prejudice based on age that can affect people of all generations, from the young to the elderly. While this past Saturday, Oct. 7, is known as as Ageism Awareness Day, the fight against ageism should be a year-round endeavor, drawing attention to the issue and promoting a more equitable and age-inclusive society.

Ageism is a multifaceted problem, encompassing stereotypes, prejudice, and discrimination rooted in age-related biases. It’s not just about older individuals being marginalized; it also involves stigmatizing the young. This complex issue affects our interactions, our language, and our perceptions, often shaping how we view ourselves and others as we age.

The World Health Organization, through its Global Campaign to Combat Ageism, provides a clear definition of ageism: stereotypes (how people think), prejudice (how people feel), and discrimination (how people act) based on age. Ageism is not an isolated problem. It’s deeply embedded in our society, and it’s something most people will encounter at some point in their lives.

The impact of ageism

Ageism manifests in various ways, including workplace discrimination, healthcare disparities, and social exclusion. In the workplace, older individuals may face challenges in securing employment or promotions due to assumptions about their abilities or adaptability. On the other hand, younger employees may be underestimated or not taken seriously because of their age.

In healthcare, ageism can lead to unequal treatment, with older patients sometimes receiving less aggressive care than their younger counterparts. These biases can have life-altering consequences and perpetuate disparities in health outcomes.

Ageism also affects the way we communicate and perceive older individuals. Common phrases like “She looks good for her age” or “I was having a senior moment" may seem harmless, but they reinforce stereotypes and diminish the value of aging. Ageism also lurks within the media and advertising, perpetuating unrealistic standards of beauty and vitality while neglecting the diversity of aging experiences.

But what is the value of aging? The aging process is happening to us every second from the time we are born. In our society due to ageism, we have diminished all the things that we could appreciate that come with age. Generally speaking, as we age our emotional and social intelligence improves. While our processing time may slow that, also provides the benefit of being contemplative and deliberate rather than reactive.

Fighting ageism year-round

To combat ageism effectively, we must acknowledge that it’s not just a problem for one day of the year. It’s a challenge we need to address continuously. Here are some steps we can take to raise awareness and promote change:

  • Education: Learn about ageism, its impact, and how it manifests in society. Recognize that it affects people of all ages.
  • Self-awareness: Reflect on your own biases and assumptions about age. Challenge stereotypes and prejudices you may hold.
  • Language: Be mindful of the language you use. Avoid ageist remarks and stereotypes when talking about age or aging.
  • Advocate for change: Encourage others, including your workplace to adopt age-inclusive practices. Promote intergenerational collaboration and mentorship.
  • Media literacy: Critically evaluate media portrayals of age and aging. Support media that promotes positive and realistic depictions of older individuals.
  • Support organizations: Engage with organizations like AARP and the American Society on Aging, which work to combat ageism and promote positive aging.
  • Start conversations: Initiate conversations about ageism with family, friends, and colleagues. Raise awareness of the issue and encourage open dialogue.

Ageism Awareness Day serves is an annual reminder of the work that needs to be done to combat ageism, but the fight against ageism should extend beyond a single day.

It’s about creating a society where people of all ages are valued, respected, and empowered to live fulfilling lives. By fostering awareness, promoting positive language, and advocating for change, we can work toward a future where ageism is a relic of the past, not a part of our present.

Tiffany Robb is health program manager for the Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Dementias Program in the Division of Public Health at DHW. A self-described compassionate extrovert, she’s had a diverse career that’s included personal training, business ownership and management, teaching, research, and project management. Tiffany finds working on brain health, Alzheimer’s, and dementia an honor and a tribute to family members who have been impacted by dementia.

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