SENIORS’ HEALTH NETWORK: Time to shift attitudes about aging

Embrace growing old with dignity and self-confidence

The Seniors Health Network each month explores a different health-care topic with local professionals.

This month, UNITI director of development Louise Tremblay looks at ageism.

We all understand the meaning of the maxim, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.”

Yet we frequently dismiss it, particularly when it comes to forming opinions about older people.

Have you ever been in traffic behind a slow driver and supposed an elderly man was behind the wheel? Have you ever avoided an aisle at the grocery store because you thought the older lady ahead of you would be fumbling in her purse? Have ever looked at an older person and assumed he was too old to perform an activity or she was too foggy to participate in politics?

Discrimination based on age is called ageism, and for society, it is just as toxic as the other words ending in “ism.”

World Health Organization (WHO) describes ageism as “the stereotyping and discrimination against individuals or groups on the basis of their age. Ageism can take many forms, including prejudicial attitudes, discriminatory practices, or institutional policies and practices that perpetuate stereotypical beliefs.”

WHO further asserts that, everywhere in the world, people have ageist attitudes and that ageism is more prevalent than sexism or racism, resulting in the isolation of older adults and ill effects on their well-being. What’s even more nonsensical about ageism is that we all age; therefore, we discriminate against our older selves.

Ageist attitudes are automatic responses that are based in assumption, not reason. All too often in our current societal structure, we overlook the lifelong achievements of older adults and inappropriately focus on the signs of aging, in turn manifesting on these adults a lack of self-respect and confidence. Those who accept the derisive stereotyping face barriers that prevent them from living a full and vibrant life, affecting their physical and psychological health. Yet, older people have so much left in them in the way of spirituality and sharing their life’s journey.

Ageism also creates a real deficit in terms of social-economic benefits.

WHO estimates that the world population over 60 years of age is currently at 900 million and anticipates that it will grow to 1.2 billion by 2025 and two billion by 2050. As the world’s population ages, the problem of ageism is growing along with it.

A person is a person, regardless of age, health, ability or social status. In a community that values human rights and prides itself on ethics, we should practise more self-reflection and shift our attitudes, not only about the aging of others but also about our own aging. Embracing growing old with dignity and self-confidence will make the small differences that amount in creating much needed societal change.

In addition, learning about the process of aging and creating exposure to older adults are part of the strategy to combat age discrimination and stereotyping.

Fortunately, we live in a community where collaboration exists among organizations to create awareness about the value of older adults and promote inclusiveness by organizing monthly lunch-and-learn events, entitled STEPS (Seniors Training and Empowering Peers), throughout Surrey and White Rock. Also, the City of Surrey in partnership with BC Association of Community Response Networks and Seniors Come Share Society will celebrate World Elder Abuse Awareness Day by hosting an intergenerational event on June 14 at Surrey City Hall and premier a video, showcasing active older adults who stay connected and contribute to the community in their special ways. People of all ages and backgrounds are invited to attend.

To find out how to register for these events, email semi.seniors@gmail.com or call 604-541-8654.

Louise Tremblay is director of development at UNITI, a partnership of Semiahmoo House Society, Peninsula Estates Housing Society and The Semiahmoo Foundation. Email semi.seniors@gmail.com

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