Have you ever heard or uttered any of the following: “I am too old for this”, “All old people are lonely and miserable” or “I am having a senior moment”? All are examples of how widespread ageism is in our culture.
In her TED Talk Let’s end ageism Ashton Applewhite urges us to dismantle the dread we associate with ageing proposing that it’s not the passage of time that makes it hard to get older it’s ageism, a prejudice that pits us against our future selves – and each other.
“Ageing is not a problem to be fixed or a disease to be cured,” she says. “It is a natural, powerful, lifelong process that unites us all,” says Ms Applewhite.
“It is not the passage of time that makes getting older so much harder than it has to be. It is ageism. When labels are hard to read or there’s no handrail or we can’t open the damn jar, we blame ourselves, our failure to age successfully, instead of the ageism that makes those natural transitions shameful and the discrimination that makes those barriers acceptable.”
Ageism is defined as discrimination or unfair treatment based on a person’s age. It can impact people in many ways including their confidence, job prospects, financial situation, health and their quality of life.
Here in Australia, The Benevolent Society has launched a national advocacy campaign EveryAGE Counts to shift the dominant, negative narrative of ageing in Australia and to drive positive change in economic, social, health and civic participation outcomes.
We all know our population is ageing. In the fifty years from 1964 to 2014, the proportion of the Australian population aged 65 years and over doubled from 8% to 15%. By 2064, it is estimated that close to one in four (23%) Australians will be aged 65 or more (AIHW, 2017).
While many older Australians are living longer and healthier lives than ever before, the predominant narrative about our ‘ageing population’ is that older people are a burden on society.
To understand the deep underlying drivers of ageism in Australia and find out how best to achieve positive change, The Benevolent Society commissioned a large research study on ageism with participants of all ages.
One of the main findings from the research is that ageism can be a ‘self-fulfilling prophecy’, leading to internalised and reinforced perceptions of our own self-worth. Ageism is also growing.
The Benevolent Society Chief Executive Officer Jo Toohey said when launching the program that ageism is subtle and can have a huge effect on an individual’s emotional and physical health, and ultimately their longevity.
“Ageism in its various forms and expressions, many of which are so entrenched and so subtle and so accepted, even by ourselves that we barely notice them, is something that needs to be addressed if we have any hope of ageing well,” says Ms Toohey.
“Pervasive negative stereotypes affect the way older people see themselves and how we view other older people.
What the research also showed is that many of the beliefs we have about older people and what it means to grow old are myths, misconceptions or simply wrong.
“The message that’s come through loud and clear from this research is that many of the negative beliefs and assumptions about ageing and older people, that are at the root of our fears around ageing and ultimately blocking our ability to live well and flourish as we age are simply not true.”
Through the EveryAGE Counts campaign, the Society hopes to change these attitudes to make growing old something to be revered rather than feared.
“We have the chance to redefine what it means to grow older and reap the benefits of living longer and healthier lives.”