Ageism and its Impact Towards Older People

art-463-01Ageism can affect every age group, but it is especially damaging for older people

Ageism refers to the stereotyping and discrimination against individuals or groups based on their age.

It comes in several forms such as prejudicial attitudes, discriminatory practices and institutional policies that intentionally or unintentionally encourage the continuous existence of stereotypical beliefs.

Ageism is particularly detrimental to older people, because it marginalises and excludes them in their communities, when they are actually still as capable as their younger counterparts.

Such marginalisation and exclusion are the result of pervasive yet invisible attitudes towards them, such as being overlooked for employment, restricted from social services, and stereotyped in the media or the society as “frail”, “weak” and “dependent”.

These attitudes are also present within the health or social-care setting in which this group is at its most vulnerable.

For instance, biological declines observed in certain older adults and distorted awareness of disorders including dementia may be mistaken as to how people are expected to experience as they age.

All these biases towards older people can be harmful to their health and well-being.

According to a research led by Professor Becca Levy from Yale School of Public Health in the United States, older people who have negative attitudes about ageing may live 7.5 years less than those with positive attitudes.

In addition, it can increase cardiovascular stress and reduce level of self-efficacy and productivity among them.

Relatively, ageism has led to negative attitudes concerning the provision of long-term care for older people, making it difficult to hire paid care workers in many countries due to the assumption that elderly care-giving is a low-status profession that involves working in poor-quality conditions.

Needless to say, efforts must be undertaken to stop normalising ageism among older people, considering that there are about 900 million people aged 60 years and above globally in 2015 and this number is expected to increase up to two billion by 2050.

As the general public, we need to have a fresh perspective of ageing by identifying and questioning internalised ageist attitudes and understanding how they can negatively affect older people.

The World Health Organisation notes that such understanding must “counter outdated concepts of older people as burdens, and acknowledge the wide diversity of the experience of older age, the inequities of ageism, and demonstrate a willingness to ask how society might organise itself better.”

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