Artist: Joseph Barker
The term Ageism was first coined in 1969 by Robert Neill Butler to describe ageism against older persons.
Old age is not a concept – it is a reality. However, ageism may be an attitude that is quite modern, especially in a global setting that is increasingly youth oriented, a view that is reinforced by media. (1,2)
The report distinguishes three main categories of ageism, including institutional, interpersonal and self-directed, and highlights its devastating effects on older people, many of whom feel increasingly overlooked and useless as they age.
The recent findings from the Australian Royal Commission into Aged Care have exposed widespread abuse of older people in institutional care. The commissioners heard from many people about substandard care and abuse. Commissioner Briggs identified attitudes and assumptions about older people that can impact the quality of delivery of aged care. She considers that ‘ageism is a systemic problem in the Australian community that must be addressed.’ (4) The findings identify insufficient funding, poor access to health care, absence of system leadership and governance, variable provider behaviour – all of which indicate an attitude that clearly denies the recipients of aged care a voice in the support they need and want.
During the Covid-19 period older residents in residential care were included in many government responses, like declaring them as weak and more vulnerable, incapacitating them and isolating them from family and loved ones and in some cases even letting them die in isolation without relatives or partners being allowed to see them a last time.
It is not hard to find ageist attitudes in the media. Older adults have been portrayed as a burden on society by traditional media, as well as social media. The Twitter hashtag “BoomerRemover” is one example. There is an immense degree of ageist stereotyping in movies and television advertisements. For example, only 2% of roles are written for people over 60, and many of these feature stereotypical characters e.g., secondary characters, forgetful characters, warm fuzzy grandmotherly types, etc. There are few roles written for women over 40, and even then, younger actors are often cast in these roles. (4 ) Attempts at humour also often resort to lampooning ageist stereotypes.
In the workplace there is much evidence to expose the ageist attitudes towards older people. Women and men are both vulnerable targets when it comes to employment, starting from the 40’s.
In the beauty industry older women are portrayed as forever young and artificially beautiful and are resorting to cosmetic procedures and beauty products to look younger than they are and to feel good about themselves.
The third type of ageism identified by the WHO is self-directed. We are absorbing the ageist attitude from the day we are born (3) that young is better than old. The way we feel about ourselves, or the thoughts we hold can influence our degree of self-worth and our feeling of wellbeing. Feeling that we are worthless, invisible, a victim, given up, feeling frustrated with our lack of strength or mobility, worthless in the workplace, all can lead to despondency and depression.
“I am too old to… learn to use the internet, walk to the shops … work, look after my body, give up alcohol, dress up, put on make-up, care about clothes, start a new relationship…” – there are many ways that we can allow thoughts to magnify a sense of worthlessness.
We would all like to be respected, to be loved and supported in our final stage of life.
While writing this article we asked each other: How do you feel about ageing?
From our own experience we share a few insights into what we have discovered about ageing joyfully:
- By not feeling old and maintaining a flexible strong body, affects the way we feel and the way others respond to us.
- Taking care with what we eat, so that our body is nourished and vital.
- Finding ways to enjoy purposeful relationships with others keeps us engaged.
- Finding purpose in everyday activities such as cooking a beautiful meal for friends, cooked with love and presence.
- Treating ourselves lovingly as if we are our own best friend.
Being an elder can be a fulfilling time of life and ageism does not touch us much when we live in our authority.
We’ve come to realise that as the body is ageing, the essence we hold within is ageless, and we can still live with immense purpose and joy, knowing that we are preparing for our passing over and our reincarnation into the next life. The quality that we live now will determine the quality we come back in. We do not have to be victims of age, nor be afraid of death.
In the words of one of our team, “When I accept my ageing body as a natural part of life ageism does not affect me when it comes towards me.”
Bernadette C., Ingrid L., Anne H., Australia
- https://agedcare.royalcommission.gov.au/sites/default/files/2021-03/final-report-executive-summary.pdf, p75
If you enjoyed this article you may also like to read:
Ageing – to be Feared or Lived?