The phrase " Equal opportunity knows no age " on a banner in men's hand with blurred background. Equality on workplace.
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Ageism refers to how we think, feel and act toward others and ourselves based upon age. Ageism is prejudice against our own future selves. Ageism is one of the most widespread and socially accepted forms of prejudice. It is very negative and dominant in our society and across the world. I am presenting this topic now since October 7th is Ageism Awareness Day and we all should become aware of our and others actions toward aging. On this day and every day let’s take a moment to consider how we treat older adults and others on how we want to be treated as we age.

Think about how you, your family, and others feel about aging. It is dominantly negative. I was volunteering at an AARP table at a baseball game the other night that had information and gifts. Peoples reactions to us displayed a lot of ageism. They would say “I am not old” and walk on, others would not look at us or just shake their heads negatively. Our feelings and attitudes about aging are imbedded in our society and reflects negativity and creates ageism. Just look at the negative messages about aging and old people that movies, TV programs and of course comedians have to say about us. Even in the political field they are putting President Biden down because of his age. Trump is not putting Biden down for his age because he is up there too. These are just some small examples of how ageism can impact all of us.

Ageism often intersects and interacts with other forms of stereotypes, prejudices and discrimination including sexism and racism. We know that any kind of prejudice or discrimination based on stereotypes can be harmful not just to the person being subjected to it, but also to the person doing the stereotyping. And to be clear, ageism is not just a problem for older adults but also people of other age groups can be the target of this prejudice at various times in their lives. Ageism and age stereotypes are often internalized at a young age. Very young children are familiar with age stereotypes, which are reinforced over their lifetimes.

This negative view of aging impacts many things, especially our health, well-being, and even longevity. Among older people, ageism is associated with poorer physical and mental health, increased social isolation and loneliness, and greater financial insecurity. An estimated 6.3 million cases of depression globally are estimated to be attributable to ageism. Ageism intersects and exacerbates other forms of bias and disadvantage including those related to sex, race, and disability leading to a negative impact on people’s health and well-being. People actually live longer when they have a positive self-perception of aging. In fact, research has shown that people with positive views of aging live over seven years longer than those that have lesser views of aging. Higher positive views of aging have also been associated with positive health.

Ageism is widespread in healthcare and it affects every aspect of healthcare, from diagnosis to prognosis. It also influences healthcare policies, workplace culture, and costs. A common way that ageism manifests in healthcare is through baby talk, which involves talking to older adults as they would to a child. Research has also found that doctors are less likely to refer older people with suicidal thoughts for mental health treatment, based on the idea that this is a “logical” experience in older age. This can have serious consequences with lack of treatment and increase costs. In addition, research has shown that attitudes towards aging can contribute to healthcare staff spending less time with older patients. It also found that doctors are less patient, less respectful, and less involved with the care of older people. This behavior results in unfair differences in treatment not based on medical needs. While the patients own ageist view results in higher rates of certain diseases such as cardiovascular disease, memory impairment, and lower will to live, which in turn result in shorter life expetence.

Ageism or age discrimination remains a significant and costly problem for workers, their families, and our economy. Several research projects show the age discrimination that occurs today in the work force. Age discrimination laws seem to help mitigate some age discrimination faced by older men, however older women face more age discrimination, and current age discrimination laws do a poor job of protecting older women, who are even more economically vulnerable.

There are reports that talk about 50% of the population are ageist which produces poorer physical and mental health, quality of life, and costs over $63 billion for various health conditions for one year. Clearly, we need policies and laws that address ageism, educational activities that enhance empathy and dispel misconceptions, and intergenerational activities that reduce prejudice which all will help decrease ageism. Ageism harms everyone, old and young. But often, it is so widespread and accepted in our attitudes and in our policies, laws and institutions that we do not even recognize its detrimental effect on our dignity and rights. Therefore, we need change. We need to educate ourselves and develop better policies. I suggest that you watch or listen to this Ashton Applewhite: Let’s end ageism | TED Talk. Aging is not a problem to be fixed or disease to be cured. Aging is living! What better way to “add life to years.”

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