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Factors impacting the aging population: Ageism (4/4)

By: Vrati M. Mehra




 

Canadians aged 65 years and older make up approximately 20% of the population as of 2023 (Older Adults and Population Aging Statistics, n.d.).Older adults are part of the fastest-growing age group in Canada (Older Adults and Population Aging Statistics, n.d.). The COVID-19 pandemic brought attention to the low quality of care and attention provided to older individuals in our society. Insufficient focus on addressing the unique challenges facing older individuals led to distressing conditions in nursing homes and assisted living facilities. Many found themselves isolated in cramped quarters, devoid of meaningful human interaction, and tragically, some passed away without the comfort of seeing their loved ones, owing to stringent visitor regulations. Moreover, the pandemic underscored the vulnerability of older adults to instances of abuse and neglect, particularly within institutional settings characterized by insufficient oversight and accountability.


As longevity becomes increasingly common, the inevitability of aging becomes more apparent. It affects not only those we cherish but also stands as a shared future experience for most of us. Consequently, there arises a pressing need to invest in comprehensive, long-term strategies that prioritize the integration of older individuals within their communities, safeguarding their dignity and well-being.


Central to implementing such solutions is fostering awareness and understanding of the multifaceted challenges faced by older adults. As such, in the coming weeks, this series will identify one factor impacting this group each week and propose potential solutions for these issues.


What is ageism?


Although ageism exists across all ages, older individuals are often discriminated against due to negative and inaccurate stereotypes about their age. The American Psychological Association identifies ageism as one of the last socially acceptable prejudices.


Messaging in the media and the impact of ageist stereotypes on health


The messaging in media from “anti-aging creams” to never-aging celebrities all reinforce that aging should avoided at all costs. Older adults also show implicit bias toward those who are older, preferring younger-aged individuals instead (Chopik & Giasson, 2017). However, this prejudice doesn’t serve anyone. As modern medicine allows people to live longer, everyone will age with time, making aging inevitable and these stereotypes relevant for all, even those holding them. 


Becca Levy proposed a theory of stereotype embodiment which views societal representation of old age as being implicitly internalized over a lifespan and gradually moulding the views each individual holds regarding their own process of aging (Levy, 2009). These views can then be associated with how one ages and can predict how well a person may hear, walk, balance, or how good their memory is (Levy, 2009). Research has also shown that positive age stereotypes are associated with improved physical recovery in people aged 50–96 after they had a heart attack (Levy et al., 2006). This effect lasted even after relevant covariates were adjusted. These examples show that holding negative stereotypes about aging is not only harmful to others but also impacts the individual holding them. As such, it is important that negative ageist attitudes are replaced with positive attitudes about aging. 


Gender differences 


There appears to be a noticeable contrast in how aging is depicted in media and society for men compared to women. Even within the film industry, older men frequently occupy roles that emphasize their attractiveness and are often paired with younger female counterparts, a dynamic less commonly seen for older women. Consider actors like George Clooney, Daniel Craig as James Bond, and Tom Cruise, who consistently land powerful roles despite their age. This privilege is not typically extended to female celebrities. Moreover, women frequently encounter subtle messaging from anti-aging product advertisements, which target them with the idea that aging is something to be avoided at all costs, implying that it will diminish their beauty.


Redefining and confronting ageism


Combining education on aging with increased intergenerational interaction is a powerful strategy for countering ageist stereotypes. As younger generations grow more distant from older adults, it becomes challenging for them to envision health and wellness in later years. A proactive approach to address this involves implementing "Age-Friendly" programs in community centers and high schools. These initiatives can include inviting older individuals to speak and engage with students and fostering a mutual exchange of knowledge about healthy aging and the importance of interdependence. Such interactions expand young people's perspectives, promoting more positive attitudes toward older adults and aging (Pillemer et al., 2022).


Embracing extended family models can foster greater interaction among individuals of various age groups within a family. This can facilitate intergenerational contact and enable the sharing of responsibilities such as childcare and elder care, enriching the experiences of all family members. 


Promoting positive representation of older adults in media through advertising, and cultural representations that depict older adults in diverse and positive roles can counter ageist stereotypes.


Promoting age diversity and inclusion in the workplace is also important. A multigenerational workforce and the contributions of older employees should be recognized and valued at workplaces. Age-neutral recruitment and hiring practices that focus on qualifications, skills, and experience relevant to the job rather than age-related criteria should be implemented.


References


Chopik, W. J., & Giasson, H. L. (2017). Age Differences in Explicit and Implicit Age Attitudes Across the Life Span. The Gerontologist, 57(suppl_2), S169–S177. https://doi.org/10.1093/GERONT/GNX058

Levy, B. (2009). Stereotype embodiment: A psychosocial approach to aging. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 18(6), 332–336. https://doi.org/10.1111/J.1467-8721.2009.01662.X/ASSET/IMAGES/LARGE/10.1111_J.1467-8721.2009.01662.X-FIG2.JPEG

Levy, B. R., Slade, M. D., May, J., & Caracciolo, E. A. (2006). Physical Recovery after Acute Myocardial Infarction: Positive Age Self-Stereotypes as a Resource. Http://Dx.Doi.Org/10.2190/EJK1-1Q0D-LHGE-7A35, 62(4), 285–301. https://doi.org/10.2190/EJK1-1Q0D-LHGE-7A35

Pillemer, K., Nolte, J., Schultz, L., Yau, H., Henderson, C. R., Cope, M. T., & Baschiera, B. (2022). The Benefits of Intergenerational Wisdom-Sharing: A Randomized Controlled Study. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 2022, Vol. 19, Page 4010, 19(7), 4010. https://doi.org/10.3390/IJERPH19074010

 


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