AGEISM
Dee Chadwick
16 Feb 2020
SO WHAT OF AGEISM? Even if you aren't old - presumably you know, have family who are so who may be affected by the issues of ageism. It is a term that can apply to us when young as well as when older, though just when it clicks in or out at either end of the spectrum, I’m unsure. When we are young we throw the word at those who point out that we are too young to drink, to drive, to have sex. Come to think of it, there are probably those who believe that the same things become restricted when we get older.

PERSONAL EXPERIENCE OF AGEISM?

It is one of the –isms that I feel I have been on the receiving end of. Certainly, when with a group of people younger than me, I have literally had a hand held up to stop me having my say. I assumed that it was because of my age, but I guess it could have been because the hand-holder-upper assumed that he had heard what I was going to say before, or considered that it would be something he didn’t want to hear. Do we always know that we are correct in our assumption that it is because we are older that others consider our offerings to be less valid, less interesting? Was I using ageism as an easier, somehow less personal way to consider the action? Was it easier to use this spin rather than the one implying that I was being cut off because I, and my thoughts and feelings, were irrelevant?

I can’t take away the years, but can I, I wonder stand up for myself more if a similar happening was to take place? Or do I need to grow a thicker skin and become less sensitive to rejection? Then again, why should I? Food for personal thought there. Whilst we may be happy to discuss things, few of us respond well to outright personal down putting and a rejection of our ideas, no matter what our age. However, just as being older doesn’t mean we are any less a person in society, neither does it mean that we have a right to be heard any more than any other individual....or a right to be rude, unkind, in our day to day interactions with people.

I have to say that I don’t feel old, and when I compare myself with my parents at a similar age, I feel that I don’t look anywhere near as old as they did. Is this down to styles chosen by my parents; styles worn then specifically by older people? I don’t believe this is the only reason. I believe that our attitudes also come into the picture. My parents seemingly acted as being older. I like to believe that I don’t, though I imagine that younger people that I know will probably disagree with me. Having said that, I do sometimes hear myself echoing my father’s words. The times when he used to say – ‘Ooh, that threw me’. I now know exactly what he meant by this comment if I am faced with a change to the usual road lay-out, or any unannounced change to something familiar. I too feel ‘thrown’, though I do so with a smile as I make that link back to my dad!

IS AGEISM UNIVERSAL?

The World Health Organisation tells us that worldwide, there are around 600 million people aged 60 years and over and that this number will double by 2025 and will reach two billion by 2050, with the vast majority of older people in the developing world. I have to say, however, that I do not consider 60 to be old. Is that simply because I am looking back to this age; an age when I certainly considered myself far from old.

Amongst these older people, no matter whether we accept the starting point of 60 or not, is ageism universal? I don’t feel that it is. I feel that there remain many areas of the world, other cultures, where older people are included, respected, their wisdom actively sought out. Having said that, age and wisdom do not always go hand in hand. Sadly, this picture is skewed if thought processes are affected by illnesses such as dementia, Alzheimer’s which can mar the later years of many. In some cultures, the older generation are usually included physically as an integral part of the family set up and this will often include if their health is failing. I am thinking of cultures such as the Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese as described in an article on this subject entitled ‘A Place for Mom’.    

How I envy friends who live near to their family, who see and play an active role in the lives of their grandchildren. I wonder, if our society was less mobile, would more of us be included? I guess that would not be down to age alone.

IS AGEISM USED EQUALLY AGAINST US ALL?

For some, such as our Queen and the Pope, age hasn’t prevented them from their carrying out their roles, though with a reduction in work load. Many leaders, usually men, continue to hold positions of power. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they have earned our respect – they can still be someone we wouldn’t like to spend time with, no matter what age they are. It comes down to the individual and their character.

 Apparently, the oldest General Medical Practitioner in France is 98, though his son, also a doctor, has retired. He is able to continue doing the work that he must love as the physical demands are not too strenuous and he is mentally capable of diagnosing and caring for his patients.

Older actors and presenters, if they are male, seemingly continue with roles and presenting. Is this because they are deemed to be distinguished, a silver fox? Yet, once the female equivalents lose their youthful looks, even with the support of cosmetic surgery, the roles apparently drop away, apart from ‘grandma’ roles rather than simply ‘older woman who still likes to get up and go’ type of roles.

I am delighted that some have seemingly already well and truly broken that mould and I love it when I see feisty older characters – such as Jane Fonda, who, at 82, plays such a role in Grace and Frankie. One of four lead characters all of a similar age. Far removed from the fuddy-duddy image that can be portrayed. I picked Jane out as I remain amazed at her ability to have raised her leg (without using her hands in support) to the sink to wash sand off her foot. Probably her years of working out have served her well with this as well as in battling bulimia, cancer, and osteoporosis as well as continuing to stand up for causes that she supports. Go girl, says I.

AREAS OF LIFE AFFECTED BY AGEISM

The world has a higher percentage of older people around these days, thanks to health care and improved social conditions for many. In the UK we have what were called the baby boomers who have now become the senior boomers. Does this lead to concerns on behalf of the younger generations of greater demands on health provision and care which they will see as something that their taxes will be called upon to fund? Concerns for politicians about the provisions that are already lagging behind demand? Have we older folk become part of our throw-away society? Old, so past our sell by date, therefore set aside as considered out of step with modern ways of thinking, being, modern technology. How sad a thought that is.

What are some of the specific areas where ageism seems to prevail for many of us?

The world of work

Aegism at work seems to remain a problem. I recently heard the suggestion that older people should be offered the lower paid jobs that younger people don’t want! I certainly hope that this was a fleeting idea that someone came up with; an idea that was swiftly kicked in to touch. There are those of us who make the choice to keep on working. There are others, for a whole variety of reasons that actually need to keep on working.

AGE UK tells us that in consideration of employment, that ageism can be legal under certain circumstances. The Equality Act allows for age discrimination when it can be ‘objectively justified’. That means the employer or service provider must show that they have a good reason for discriminating on the basis of age. For example, an employer could put an upper age limit on a job where very high levels of physical fitness are required and could not be fulfilled by someone older. I am led to wonder how many times this is applied inappropriately?

Health

I can’t argue against the fact that the law of averages and scientific fact mean that there will be more ill health, both physical and mental as the years pass by. However, there are more opportunities for older people to maintain a healthy lifestyle. I walk as much as I can, I go to Pilates classes and have just signed up for over 50’s Keep Fit classes. Throw in the likes of walking football and netball and this is in just in my small town. So many of us older folk learned to cook well before the days of convenience foods, so can and do prepare healthy food from scratch.

A Time.com article on how ageism can influence older people’s health, found evidence of it adversely affecting older people’s health in 96% of the studies. The studies were carried out by researchers from Yale University in 45 countries between 1970 and 2017, with information from seven million older people.

Finances

There are many older people who struggle financially – even as far as having to decide whether to heat or to eat. Maybe saving for that later rainy day was something that wasn’t a possibility. Maybe there is no pension other than the state pension. Age, however isn’t the only factor in such situations with many young families having similar struggles.

Isolation

If finances are a constant worry, opportunity to get out and about probably seems limited, especially if poor mobility means that simply going out for a walk could be difficult, or impossible. With distance from family, friends no longer around, loneliness, isolation, especially in the dark days of winter can become a major problem. It affects physical, but especially mental well being. I know that when I walk, I always share a smile and a greeting with everyone that I pass. I can go for two or three days without speaking face to face with anyone. At times such as this, I always appreciate my postie and his pause for a quick exchange of pleasantries. However, I am lucky as I always have things to do that stop my aloneness tipping over into loneliness.

BACK TO THE PERSONAL BIT -

Yes, my hair may be grey, my skin may be wrinkled, my health may be iffy at times. I accept these, as the alternative could be round any corner. No point in raging against the storm of being older, rather I accept limitations due to diminished strength and keep on giving, living my life with contentment and making every effort not to be ageist against myself, or consider my main characteristic as being old. Similarly, I sincerely hope that others won’t discriminate against me because of my age. I am hoping that they continue to treat me as me, Dee, simply a person rather than focus on that grey hair, those wrinkles.   

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