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Understanding the Effects of Ageism

By January 20, 2016Aging in Place

When it comes to the problems facing our society, it could be argued that not enough attention is paid to our seniors. It’s the age-old issue of “ageism” – no pun intended. Language that is inherently biased in a certain way because the subject of conversation is a senior. This tone and attitude stems from the largely cultural assumption that seniors lose certain abilities as they age. It’s not just a matter of derogatory language, studies are beginning to show that certain opinions regarding old age can actually result in adverse medical outcomes later in life.

The reason that the language used when speaking about seniors is so important is because over time, those expressed opinions can become deeply ingrained and a self-fulfilling prophecy, for the young and old alike. While it cannot be denied that many seniors lose their cognitive abilities due to diseases like Alzheimer’s, it doesn’t mean that the entire elderly population has suddenly become incompetent because they turned 65.

Recent studies have shown the physical effects on the brain due to ageism. Study participants who expressed a disdain of old age, or attached negative stereotypes to it, had worse health outcomes as they themselves aged. Alzheimer’s itself was far more present in older people who had, decades earlier, expressed negativity toward old age.

At the root of many of the elderly stereotypes is the opinion that youth is the standard against which all else should be judged. All members of the human race seem to be measured against the physical and mental capacities of 25 – 35 year olds. Why is that? Older people have been around longer. That inevitably means that they have greater capabilities for problem solving and in dealing with various people and situations. Calling an older person “youthful” is said as a compliment but it can be detrimental. A senior does not have to look “youthful” to look good. Everyone is exactly, and only, what they are, and should be encouraged to embrace it.

There’s one thing that isn’t going to change, and that’s the fact that everyone gets older. No matter how hard people may try to remain young, there is no going back. So, why dread it? Yes, aging is inevitable, but it does not have to become attached to ageism. Let’s prepare for a longer and healthier life by not attaching such a terrible stigma to age. It’s time for society to stop believing that an older person has to look and act young in order to look and act healthy and be vital.

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