What is ageism and what are some ways to address it?
6 ways we can all help reduce ageism in Australian society
If you’re an older person, have you ever felt like you’re being treated like a child? Has someone assumed that because you’re not as mobile as you used to be, you’ve lost your mental capacity too?
This is called ageism and it is a form of discrimination towards older people. In its most serious form, it can be considered to be elder abuse. Elder Abuse Awareness Day is commemorated each year on 15th June and we believe it’s something we all need to be aware of. We look at what ageism is and how we can all address it.
What is ageism?
World-renowned gerontologist and psychiatrist Dr. Robert N. Butler coined the term ageism in 1968. He recognised it as a version of discrimination against the elderly.
However according to an Australian Human Rights Commission study, everyone can experience ageism and say that 63% of Australians have reported it. Ageism can be institutional, interpersonal or even self-directed. That means you might have formed ageist views about your own abilities.
Ageism discrimination can take place in many ways. Younger people can experience ageism when people condescend them particularly in a workplace setting. People of middle age could experience ageism in the workplace when they’re older than others. They might not get a job they apply for or might not receive similar opportunities compared to their younger peers. Older people might experience ageism by being ‘helped’ without being asked.
When it comes to older people, they can experience it in many places. Ageism can take place in families. Younger members of the family might patronise them by assuming they don’t understand certain concepts. They might talk down to them or assume they can’t cope living independently on their own.
There can also be ageism from strangers. People might assume an older person finds it hard to hear so they talk slowly to them. If an older person has a physical disability, they might also assume they’ve experienced cognitive decline, so they might not give them the right assistance.
What are the consequences of ageism?
There can be many consequences of ageism. An older person who has experienced discrimination could feel like their dignity and rights aren’t being respected. They might end up with reduced opportunities to interact and contribute to society, which can reduce their quality of life. Therefore, they might feel shame, anger, and sadness.
According to the Human Rights Commission study, ageism is also associated with poorer health outcomes, an increased risk of social isolation, and greater financial insecurity.
Another serious risk factor of ageism could be elder abuse. Elder abuse is any act that causes harm to an older person. Usually, it’s carried about by someone they know and trust, such as a family member or friend. Elder abuse can range from not considering an older person’s needs to deliberately causing them harm.
Examples of elder abuse can include:
- Financial abuse: using an older person’s property or assets improperly or illegally.
- Psychological abuse: not treating an older person with respect or treating them like a child.
- Physical abuse: a physical act against an older person that causes an injury.
- Social abuse: isolating an older person from family or friends.
- Sexual abuse: unwanted sexual contact, language or behaviour.
- Neglect: not providing an older person’s everyday needs.
What are some interventions to reduce ageism?
1. Be self-aware and know your rights
Think about the way you interact with the older people in your life. Do you ever inadvertently treat them differently because of their age? Remember, we are all ageing and can experience ageism. We should treat everyone the way we wish to be treated.
If you’re an older person, it’s important that you know your rights. Age discrimination is against the law and the Age Discrimination Act protects people against discrimination in many areas of life, including employment, education and accommodation.
You can read more about your rights at retirement from the Aged Discrimination Commissioner to help you navigate the services, support and decisions that are part of retirement.
2. Speak out
Whether you see ageism or experience it yourself, it’s important to speak out. Sometimes people aren’t aware that what they’re doing or saying is negatively affecting an older person. Highlight the ageism in a polite but firm manner.
If you’re experiencing ageism, politely explain why you believe the person is being discriminated against and give some suggestions about ways you can contribute positively.
3. Respect everyone’s individuality
Everyone, regardless of their age, religion, cultural identity, gender and sexuality, are individuals with their own unique beliefs, attitudes and behaviours.
We need to respect everyone as individuals and not make predetermined assumptions based on stereotypes.
4. Mix with people of all ages
To help us break down stereotypes, it’s important we form relationships with people of all ages. According to the Australian Human Rights Commission study, this was one of the key suggestions for combating ageism in Australia. When you have a chat with an older person, ask them what their opinions are rather than making an assumption.
If you are an older person, try to spend more time with younger people. You could enrol in a class, join a book club or participate in a yoga class. Not only will you do your bit to combat ageism, you’ll learn something new in the process.
5. Encourage independence
Most older people want to enjoy independence as long as possible, particularly in their own homes. If you’re the loved one of an older person, encourage them to live as independently as possible. By engaging in home care help, they can get help when they need it for things like personal care, meal preparation and transport.
If you’re an older person, it’s important to try to be as independent as possible. You don’t have to ask for help until you need it. Continue to go out to meet new people, try new activities and do things for yourself. When you need help, you can talk to Five Good Friends about introducing some home care to help you maintain your independence whilst living the life you love.
6. Be positive
Another suggestion from the Human Rights report was to change the way we view ageing in Australia. We need to see it as a more positive experience, and we need to increase education and awareness around the positive aspects of each age group.
At Five Good Friends, we are completely on board! Our mission is to empower our clients to live life on their own terms. We want to help our Members live long, healthier and happier lives in their own homes.
If you’re interested in learning more about how Five Good Friends is breaking down the stigma of ageism, get in touch with us.