Aging is a natural part of life, but some people still feel uncomfortable or anxious about the topic. There are a lot of misconceptions regarding aging that contribute to these fears, like the belief that most older adults need to move into skilled nursing facilities or that all seniors have impaired cognitive functioning. While it’s true that certain health problems become more common with age and that certain activities may become more difficult to access, older adults are just as deserving of respect, autonomy, and happiness as younger adults. Unfortunately, misconceptions about aging have led to a serious problem with ageism in our culture.
In some cases, ageist behavior is very obvious. Most often, though, ageism is subtle and unintentional. You might participate in ageist beliefs or behaviors toward others or toward yourself without even realizing your bias. This is a pervasive problem that affects all of us, but it’s our responsibility to recognize it and to find ways to overcome it.
What Is Ageism?
Ageism is prejudice, stereotyping, or discrimination against people based on their age. It typically comes from a fear or aging or the belief that elderly people are less capable than younger people.
Sometimes, ageism takes the form of internal thoughts or beliefs an individual has toward older adults. Other times, people make ageist comments or participate in ageist behaviors. Here are some common examples:
• Companies hesitating to hire someone due to their age.
• Brands marketing their products exclusively to younger people.
• Not wearing certain clothes or getting a certain haircut because you’re “too old for it.”
• Attributing minor forgetfulness to old age or a “senior moment.”
• Speaking to an older adult’s child or younger companion instead of directly to the older adult.
• Using patronizing language or speaking loudly and slowly when talking to senior even if they don’t have hearing loss.
How Does Ageism Affect the Elderly?
Ageism can have a serious effect on older adults, especially if they’re regularly exposed to ageist comments or behaviors. The most blatant and tangible example is ageism in the workplace. Although it’s illegal for employers to discriminate based on age, this problem still happens all the time. Older adults may be targeted during mass layoffs, and it may be harder for them to find employment. Even if employers aren’t intentionally discriminating against seniors, subconscious biases can have a big impact on their hiring decisions.
Ageism affects more than your employment status, too. For example, people might speak loudly and slowly to older adults even if they’re not hard of hearing. Family members may assume that aging relatives aren’t up-to-date on current events. Doctors might not ask an elderly adult for input on their medical care when they would ask a younger adult in the same situation.
All of these behaviors can feel belittling and demotivating. When you experience ageism frequently, you might start to feel like your voice doesn’t matter or that people aren’t seeing you for who you truly are. This can be incredibly isolating, and it can affect your mental and emotional health.
How to Overcome Ageism
Hopefully, as the world becomes a more open-minded and understanding place, ageism will decline alongside other prejudices. However, you don’t have to accept ageist behavior even if it’s commonplace. You can take steps today to recognize and challenge ageism so that you and your loved ones don’t have to feel disadvantaged due to age.
Here Are Four Strategies on How to Combat Ageism
1. Acknowledge it.
Most people who engage in ageist behavior don’t realize what they’re doing. It can be uncomfortable to call someone out on inappropriate behavior, but it’s the best way to combat prejudice.
If you notice that someone is leaving you out of a conversation and speaking only to the younger adults, make your voice heard. If someone speaks to you in a condescending tone of voice, tell them that it isn’t necessary. If you’re a younger adult with an aging loved one and you see your peers engaging in ageist behavior, say something. These moments can become valuable learning opportunities.
2. Stay active and engaged.
Being active and involved shows others that you are an independent, capable, and interesting person. Continue to participate in your favorite hobbies, and spend time outside and in the community. Try new things, and make new friends. Follow the news so that you can talk about current events. Although it shouldn’t be your responsibility to prove yourself to younger people, this can be a great way to subvert people’s expectations of older adults.
3. Be as independent as possible.
If there are some tasks that you need assistance or support with as you get older, it’s nothing to be ashamed about. However, maximizing your independence can help you show people that you shouldn’t be talked down to, belittled, or thought less of because of your age. Not only is it a good way to overcome ageism, but it also can help you feel more empowered and autonomous in your day-to-day life.
Don’t allow people to assume that you need help just because you’re a senior. Let your loved ones know that you’ll ask if you need assistance. Look into assistive devices or equipment if certain tasks start to get difficult so that you can maintain as much independence as possible.
4. Notice how you think and speak about yourself.
To overcome ageism from others, you might have to do some self-reflection. It is possible to have ageist thoughts or beliefs toward yourself. For example, you might joke frequently about your age or avoid participating in certain activities because you’re “too old.” When your loved ones see you speak about yourself in this way, they may think that it’s acceptable for them to have the same perspective.
Try to lead by example for the people in your life. Making an occasional self-deprecating joke is harmless, but most often, you should be confident and self-assured. Treat yourself with the respect and trust you deserve, and the people around you will follow suit.
Most seniors experience ageism at some point from employers, family, healthcare providers, or community members. It can be disheartening to hear people judge you based on your age, but you don’t have to accept this behavior. No matter your age, you are the same person you’ve always been, and you still deserve just as much respect. To overcome ageism, you should focus on living actively and independently, and you should call attention to comments or behaviors that are rooted in ageism. Your efforts can make a big difference in your own life and in your community.
Blue Moon Senior Counseling provides therapy services for older adults struggling with depression, anxiety, grief, loneliness, and other concerns. Contact us today to learn more about our services or to schedule a meeting with a counselor in your area.