Ageism is Harmful

A Letter From the Old Folks Home:

The blog is about living life after 70 with joy, resilience, and purpose. A Letter from the Old Folks Home  is a source of positive, helpful advice encouraging people to set and achieve goals  and find joy in life. The blog will cover personal experiences and thoughts and concerns. Topics of blogs will include health, retirement, fashion, travel, and  living in continuing care retirement communities. The blogs will be short and appear once a month on my website or by email if you choose (see the contact form on this website). Come walk with me.

Ageism: Prejudice or discrimination against people based on their age.  

Octogenarian Blogger Block

I had just gleefully emailed cartoons about old people to my four over-seventy siblings. A couple of the cartoons featured Maxine, the grumpy old cartoon lady.   I read them again to have another laugh before filing them.  One, with a daffy-looking senior, said,  “How do I know what I am doing tomorrow? I do not know what today is.”  That seemed mean.  Did passing on those cartoons make me guilty of ageism?  Suddenly, I felt ageism guilt.

I  read a  book and online articles  on ageism and decided to get some in-person experiences.  I emailed a few ladies in my senior retirement community inviting them for “A Conversation on Ageism.”  I said I would bring wine and cheese.  I invited eight.  Seven came.  After a brief introduction on ageism and a one-pager with statements and resources, I presented conversation starters which focused on their experiences. These are their comments.

What are stereotypes of seniors?

Negative: Q-tips (white hair), crabby, doddering old people who did not take care of themselves, set in their ways, hard of hearing, blind, poor drivers, weak, feeble,  crazy old man, senile old woman, computer illiterates,  old geezer, and dirty old man.

Positive:  News stories about seniors who are active, productive, and contribute to their communities in old age.

Neutral:  It used to be worse.  It was not long ago that you were “old” at fifty.

What are your experiences of ageism?

The first time I went to my doctor after my husband died, the nurse started talking to my daughter instead of me.  She took my arm and guided me when we walked and asked if I wanted a wheelchair.  She had known me for years. Why was I was suddenly treated like a person who could not walk or talk?

We must be careful when talking to younger people…our use of words sometimes brings looks of condescension.

It took me nine months to get a primary doctor.  They limit Medicare patients.   

At age 55, it is so clear that they want to get rid of you at work so they can hire someone cheaper. 

Doctors say, “At your age, you don’t need that test.”  What if I have someone in my immediate family who died from colon cancer or cervical cancer? What if I would like to live a few years longer?

The drugs they want me to take  are sometimes not normed on people my age. How do I know they will work and not be harmful?  I investigated getting into  treatment trials.  They will not accept seniors for drug or other treatment trials.

At my age, I see several specialists. The doctors have a nonchalant approach of adding more drugs to my list.  They might interact with the other drugs prescribed by other doctors. Who checks?  There is not enough team approach to prescribing.

I feel invisible.  What do I have to do to be seen as I am?

Commercials are only about young people.  Clothes are not tailored or designed for old people.  We do not dress like women did years ago.  They do not treat us like we are interested in clothing.  We travel and want to look nice.

You must be confident in your own skin to survive ageism.

What is ageism?

Ageism is a term that was used by Robert Neil Butler in 1969 to describe bias against older people. His book Why Survive?  Being Old in America won a Pulitzer prize.  When we think of stereotypes, we may act by staying away from old people or treating  them in demeaning ways. This can happen in institutions like hospitals, nursing homes, the workplace, the media, and the legal system. It can happen in social exchanges when old people are ignored or spoken to.  It happens when we accept stereotypes and apply them to ourselves. 

Research shows increased stress, a decreased will to live,  less desire to live a healthy lifestyle, a slower recovery from illness,  and a shortened life span.

Think of a person who refuses to get a hearing aid because it makes her look old (and it is costly and not paid for by Medicare).

Think of a person in a wheelchair who stays in the house all day instead of getting out because he does not want to look old and handicapped.

Think of abused and neglected seniors:  At least 10% of adults aged sixty-five and older will experience some form of elder abuse each year (Elder abuse statistics, U.S. Department of Justice).

Think of an old person who refuses to go to the doctor for a health problem because he is going to die anyway.

What you can do:

Educate yourself and others:

Ageism is a global challenge: UN” ( World Health Organization (WHO) 

What is Ageism & How Does it Affect Health,” ( News Today, November 3, 2021  

 Applewhite, Ashton: This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism, Celadon books, New York, New York, 2016   

“Fact-filled, witty, a call to arms for older folks.”   Nadine Block