A male caregiver from Right at Home helping a senior male eat while sitting outside at a table A male caregiver from Right at Home helping a senior male eat while sitting outside at a table

Just Say No to Ageism—Including Your Own!

“All societies in the world are in the midst of [a] longevity revolution,” says a 2019 United Nations report. “Older persons are a growing demographic group in society.” Unfortunately, at the same time, “Every second person in the world is believed to hold ageist attitudes,” reports the World Health Organization, calling ageism “an insidious scourge on society.”

What does it mean to be ageist? Ageism refers to prejudice, stereotyping or discrimination based on a person’s age. It can happen to people of any age, including younger people, but our focus is on ageism against older people. Here are some examples of ageism:

Media representations: Advertisements, films, television shows and other forms of media often depict older adults as frail, dependent or technologically challenged. These portrayals both contribute to age-based discrimination and keep it alive. Even small things like greeting cards—which often portray older people in a derogatory manner—keep ageism alive.
Employment discrimination: Ageism in the workplace is a problem in many countries. Age-related biases often affect older people who are seeking employment or career advancement. They may encounter challenges such as age limits in job advertisements, assumptions about reduced productivity or adaptability, and stereotypes that older workers are technologically inept. These discriminatory practices limit opportunities for older people to contribute to the workforce and earn an income.
Social exclusion: Besides employment, older adults may face age-based stereotypes that limit their access to social opportunities, education or political engagement. As a result, they may experience social isolation, loneliness or lack of inclusion, all of which can affect their well-being and quality of life.
Health care access and treatment: Ageism also shows up in the health care sector. Some health care providers may hold biases and assumptions that older patients have diminished health outcomes. They may attribute health issues solely to age. This can result in inadequate treatment or neglect of health concerns. Ageism can also influence the allocation of health care resources, where care for older people may receive lower priority.
Policy and legal challenges: Ageism can be perpetuated through policies and practices that discriminate against older people. Examples include mandatory retirement ages in certain professions or limitations on retirement benefits based solely on age. These policies can reinforce age-based stereotypes and hinder the full participation and contributions of older adults in society.

Ageism is a widespread problem, and it shows up in a variety of ways across cultures and societies. It even shows up in older people themselves, as something called “internalized ageism.”

Internalized Ageism

“Do you ever have one of those days where every time you misplace something or can’t recall a name, you declare you’re having a ‘senior moment’ instead of thinking of yourself as having too much on your plate?” asks Jan Golden, the founder of Age-Friendly Vibes. She says that’s a common example of internalized ageism.

Internalized ageism happens when an older person accepts the negative stereotypes, biases and discrimination about aging. Those common stereotypes affect their own thoughts, behaviors, self-esteem and even actions. Sadly, notes Golden, internalized ageism can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. It might be laughing at an ageist birthday card (“You know you’re old when …”) and even limiting one’s activities based on what one thinks an older person “should” do.

Other effects of internalized ageism include:

Having a negative view of oneself: Older people who have internalized ageism may develop a negative view of their own aging process. They may think of themselves as less competent, attractive or valuable compared to younger adults. This negative self-image can erode their self-esteem and lead to feelings of worthlessness or self-doubt.
Lower confidence and fewer opportunities: Internalized ageism can undermine older people’s confidence in pursuing new opportunities or challenges. They may doubt their abilities and skip chances for personal growth, career advancement or simply trying new things. This can lead to social isolation and fewer life experiences.
Health effects: Believing in negative age-related stereotypes and thinking of oneself as “old” or “frail” can cause stress, anxiety and depression. The psychological distress caused by internalized ageism may also affect one’s physical health. For example: “I’m too old to go hiking or start running.”
Impact on seeking help: Internalized ageism may keep older people from seeking necessary support or health care services. They may downplay or dismiss their health concerns, believing that certain symptoms or conditions are inevitable consequences of aging. This can result in delayed diagnosis, untreated health conditions or inadequate self-care.

Overall, internalized ageism can decrease a person’s quality of life. We can all do our part to challenge ageist beliefs and promote healthy aging. Adults of all ages should remember that they, too, will be “senior citizens.” Find ways to interact positively with people of other generations. Celebrate the diversity and abilities of older people.

“Ageism harms everyone—old and young,” says Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. “But often, it is so widespread and accepted that we do not even recognize its detrimental effect on our dignity and rights. We need to fight ageism head-on, as a deep-rooted human rights violation.”

How Right at Home Can Help

Right at Home can help keep seniors engaged and reduce their social isolation as they age in place. Our trained caregivers can provide transportation to social outings to help older adults stay involved in the activities they love. Other services, such as light housekeeping, preparing meals, and personal care, can also be provided in the home. If you want to learn more, use our office locator to contact the nearest office and ask for a FREE in-home consultation.

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Right at Home offers in-home care to seniors and adults with disabilities who want to live independently. Most Right at Home offices are independently owned and operated, and directly employ and supervise all caregiving staff.
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