What Can I Do about Ageism?

NOT in the slow lane, YET 

The blog is about living life after 70 with joy, resilience, and purpose. NOT in the slow lane, YET 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 at least once a month on my website www.nadineblock.com or by email if you choose.

Last month I wrote about the effects of ageism, a term defined as  prejudice or  discrimination on grounds of a person’s age.   What five words come to mind when you think of older people? Do you think they are  calm, contemplative, and wise,  or do you think they are slow, stubborn, and out of touch?  I list some of mine in this blog. 

What can I do about Ageism?

Collage of Good Stereotypes of older Persons: Block

I started by looking in the mirror and checking my own stereotypes of aging.    I blamed old age for forgetting a name or misplacing my cell phone.  I thought most old people have short attention spans. I laughed at cartoons about aging. Yes, I used words like “old hag,” “Over-the-Hill,” and “Old Fogey” describing older people.  Just this week I said, “You can teach an old dog a new trick, but it takes a long  time.”  I have not taken a 180-degree turn, but I am more aware of my own negative perceptions. Once we are aware of them,  we can challenge our thinking.  I went through my blogs and removed ageism’s. There may still be some there.

We should not be too hard on ourselves.   We started learning stereotypes about older people  before we went to school. Our beliefs about aging came from words and actions in our families and communities, advertising,  movies, social media, and books.  We learned them.  We need to unlearn them. 

What can I do to unlearn ageism?

When I catch myself using an ageism stereotype,  I sometimes self-talk an alternative statement.   “Old people have attention spans of fleas “ could be changed to “Some older people have attention span problems.”   I can make a verbal correction as a response to my own words. I can talk about ageism with friends to solidify my attempts to correct my own perceptions and I can help raise awareness for others.  

What can I do when I am challenged by ageist remarks?

Now that I am more aware of ageism, I find it in medical care, in social events, and  in  family relationships.  What can I do when someone seems  prejudiced against me because of ageism?

I could react like my mother who told a medical worker,  “You can’t treat me that way just because I am old.” She got their attention. She lived to be 101 so she had more chances to correct medical workers.  My brother called a doctor who was caring for our mother to inquire about how she developed MRSA after a shoulder operation.  He said, “Maybe her shoulder skin wasn’t clean.”  My brother was incensed!  “That’s your job,”  he said.

It is nice to have a family advocate but that is not always available.  If you feel you are being belittled, ignored or the subject of condescension or rudeness, you have a right to respond.  You must be your own advocate.

There are other ways to react to being stereotyped as old and less entitled to respect.  I might  say, “Tell me more. What do you mean?”   I listen to what the person says.  I  may be satisfied with their answer, but I remind myself not to back down if their answer is still demeaning.  I can tell them how it feels to hear their words, like my mom did but, in a less stinging way.  

What can I do to push back on ageism in our culture? 

Educate myself about ageism:  Read articles and books and talk to people who are knowledgeable.  We should be proud of being life-long learners.  People who keep learning and evolving stay young. 

Prevent it in the first place:   Start talking to children in the family  about positive age beliefs  and support  teaching positive age beliefs  in school.

Support programs that provide older people with experiences like tutoring, mentoring, and volunteering in schools and other community organizations:

 They give a positive image of older people  and  a  reward that comes from helping others.

 Support giving opportunities to older people  to take classes with college students to learn about young people, stay active and learn new things. 

 Travel with younger people to explore unfamiliar places and cultures: You can see it from their perspective and your own.

Seek out interage experiences: Such experiences provide opportunities for us to learn new things and make new friends.  Younger people can understand that we are all different and develop empathy for older people.   A friend and I went to an art event. We dressed in cocktail clothes. Most of the attendees were young creatives who came in elaborate costumes.  What fun that was.  We sat with a young couturier and her friend. The conversation was exciting.  Next year I will put together a costume for the event.

Post positive quotes about older people in our communities to counteract negative stereotypes:


“Youth can walk faster but the elder knows the road.” African proverb.

“Beautiful young people are accidents of nature, but beautiful old people are works of art.”   Eleanor Roosevelt

“You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.”   C.S. Lewis

“Growing old is mandatory, but growing up is optional.”  Carroll Bryant

Help Build a Better Society

If you observe ageist behaviors and speech, speak up. Let them know such behavior is unacceptable.  Continue to educate yourself and others. Support  programs that provide  workplace environment improvements, social opportunities, and medical care for older people.    People with positive stereotypes of living appear to live longer and be happier. Supporting positive perceptions of older people helps create a kinder and more respectful society for all people.   

Do you want to know more?

This study indicates people with positive perceptions of aging live longer.

Longevity increased by positive self-perceptions of aging.