BC Association of Community Response Networks

Fear Ageism, Not Aging!

— Submitted by Gabi Townsend, Coordinator, Victoria Community Response Network (CRN)

Reprinted with permission. This article was originally published in the December/January/February 2022-23 edition of the “Observer”, the quarterly newsletter of the Fairfield Gonzales Community Association.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO, 2021), “ageism refers to the stereotypes (how we think), prejudice (how we feel) and discrimination (how we act) towards others or oneself based on age.”

Ageism affects everyone at any age; however, older adults and seniors are particularly vulnerable to experiencing the negative implications of ageism. Ageism affects how we view others and how we view ourselves, and “can erode solidarity between generations, can devalue or limit our ability to benefit from what younger and older populations can contribute, and can impact our health, longevity, and well-being while also having far-reaching economic consequences.”

Ageism can have negative impacts on our health. For example, it can have long-term effects on mental health, result in slower recovery from disability and reduce life expectancy (by 7.5 years) (WHO, 2021). Seniors First BC (2021) asserts that ageist attitudes affect the health care seniors receive, which leads to:

  • Absence of services for older adults
  • Focus on acute care and cure rather than care for chronic conditions
  • Age-based decision-making in health (“age rationing”)
  • Others making decisions about the quality of older people’s lives
  • Paternalism
  • Omission from clinical trials
  • Less recognition and treatment for mental health issues
  • Decisions forced on elders
  • Gender bias, e.g., more radical mastectomies, less reconstructive surgery
  • Overmedication of older adults

Ageism is widespread, and examples of ageist stereotypes can regularly be found, among other places, on social media, and in songs, birthday cards, and advertising. By seeping into our everyday lives, ageism can become normalized and, subsequently, remain unchallenged. Feelings of shame based on getting older can also become internalized, constraining what people believe is possible in later life and limiting a sense of pride in the accomplishment of growing up and growing older. It can also affect how people relate to one another by preventing social integration and the formation of meaningful relationships between different generational groups. Ageism is also deeply ingrained within social policy, which can impose barriers to the development of age-friendly policies by influencing the framing of problems, the questions that are asked, and the solutions that are offered.

There is a need to change people’s understanding of aging and older people, and to develop the political will to tackle ageism. We know from experiences with sexism and racism that changing social norms is possible and can result in more equitable and productive societies. This is especially the case when there are deliberate collaborations between various stakeholder groups (e.g., government, civil society, and private enterprise) and sectors (e.g., health, environment, and economy) to achieve a policy outcome.

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If you live in Victoria or in the surrounding area, email gabitownsend@gmail.com for workshops, presentations, and information on topics related to helping seniors live dignified, safe, and productive lives, or visit www.bccrns.ca.