What is ageism? It is discrimination against people on the grounds of age, specifically, discrimination against the elderly.
Older people become stereotyped, just as certain races are stereotyped as being “smarter,” “lazy,” or “more industrious.” And we all are aware of the stereotyping between men and women.
Many older people become aware of how, when they reach a certain age, they are suddenly treated differently. They become less valued, and are seen as being less capable.
Older people often are viewed as being weak, frail, disabled, or deaf (have you noticed how there is a tendency to raise voices when being talked to?)
Along this vein of thought, two television commercials come to mind that reflect the advertiser’s view of seniors.
The first shows a couple with children going to visit their grandmother. While they warn the children “not to run around” and “not make noise,” grandma turns out to be quite active and full of fun.
But the worrying aspect of the commercial is the stereotyping of an older person being incapable of putting up with active grandchildren.
The second commercial shows a young couple who are expressing concern about the lifestyle of their parents now that they are retired.
They are having fun (in fact, they are out riding a motor scooter).
Again, the commercial loses impact because of stereotyping (i.e., they are old, they shouldn’t be having a fun attitude of children).
When adult children treat their aging parents like children, that is a form of ageism, as is being treated in a paternalistic way by service providers.
There is ageist language contained in medicine, law, and social services, where terms like “the elderly” or “the aged” are used.
These terms give the impression that older adults are mentally and physically frail.
Why is it important to fight ageism? Consider that the Ontario Human Rights Commission notes that the abuse of older adults occurs, in large part, due to negative attitudes towards older people or their economic or social vulnerability.
Here are a few ways to fight ageism:
•identify the myths and misinformation;
•monitor the media and respond to ageist material;
•speak up against ageism; and
•talk openly, don’t hide the issue.
Editor’s note: S.A.L.T. stands for Seniors and Law Enforcement Together.