Why Be Sensitive to Ageism
Thanks to good genes, healthy living and luck, we all one day will reach a ripe old age. Advanced age, however, doesn't automatically garner respect. People's prejudices, biases and stereotypes about older adults may surprise-and offend-you.
Learn how to identify and avoid ageism against older adults.
Ageism is Common Practice
On a visit to the local drugstore, you’ll find greeting cards that portray advancing age as something to be ashamed of, shelves of anti-aging beauty and medical products and—some people’s worst fear—yourself in line to pay behind an actual advanced age shopper. Sadly, thanks to ageist biases, many assume that the older customer is going to take longer to ring up, which, of course, is not necessarily true!
When watching television, good luck finding characters age 65 and older. According to Senior Journal, those over age 65 are represented in less than two percent of programs on prime-time television. The older adult characters who do make the cut are often portrayed as the stereotypical frail and helpless senior or in a bizarre fashion for comedy sake, such as a gun-toting grandma or hip-hop dancing old man. The premise of the joke being that an advanced-age person never engages in youthful associated activities and behaviors.
People often make ageist remarks unknowingly. For example, when a waiter asks an obviously older woman, “What would you like today young lady?” This reference is patronizing and condescending. The waiter would never ask a teenage girl, “What would you like today grandma?”
And while you may think it’s nice to call your grandparents “adorable,” it’s really an insult. Treating older adults like toddlers makes them feel irrelevant and unintelligent. Avoid “cute” and “sweet” too!
Also, next time you wish grandpa or someone else of grandparent age a happy birthday, don’t describe them as “70-years-young!” While this may seem kind, it’s sending the message that “young” is good and “old” is bad. Many of us are guilty of this unintentional ageism slip of the tongue.
Not only is ageism widely accepted in society, it often goes unnoticed. Some researchers believe that ageism, in the form of negative stereotypes, directly affects longevity. In a study published by the American Psychological Association, Yale School of Public Health professor Becca Levy and her colleagues concluded that old people with positive perceptions of aging lived an average of 7.5 years longer than those with negative images of growing older.
So, by being sensitive and avoiding ageism practices, you can help perpetuate a more positive attitude about advanced age and possibly longer life expectancies. Think of it as an investment in your long and happy future!