What is Ageism?

What is Ageism?

“Ageism is stereotyping, discrimination and mistreatment based solely upon age. When directed towards older people, it comes from negative attitudes and beliefs about what it means to be older.” EveryAGE Counts.

Ageism is a very destructive type of discrimination. It is hard to fight because it has become part of everyday life in Australia.

What makes ageism different from other ‘-isms’ is that it is discrimination against our younger or older selves. After all, each of us has been younger and will (hopefully) become older.

Ageism against older people is present in how we talk about ageing and what we think it means to be older. Too often, we portray older people as out of touch, frail, forgetful or worthless.

Research published in 2014 (Levy et al., 2014) found that found 98% of Facebook group descriptions of older adults reflected negative stereotypes.

Ageism against older people is so common that we can turn it against ourselves without even realising it. Have you ever apologised for being older, or made jokes about your age? Have you kept quiet when once you would have spoken out because you think your views are less important or interesting?

Older people have the right to live with dignity and safety, just like everyone else. Ageism makes it seem okay to ignore older people, and this can have terrible consequences. In a society where older people are ignored, it is easier to overlook elder abuse or fail to make it stop.

As more people live longer, the number of people affected by ageism and elder abuse will increase, so it’s more important than ever that we raise awareness and challenge negative attitudes towards ageing.

Ageist stereotypes are now so embedded in society and social media that only a concerted national campaign that combines legislation with education can begin to stop the marginalisation and abuse of older people. EveryAGE Counts is a campaign that does just that. To find out more about ageism and commit to helping end it, visit the EveryAGE Counts website here.

Australia’s Aged Discrimination Commissioner, Dr Kay Patterson, has made a great video with journalist Ellen Fanning to explain the connection between ageism and financial elder abuse. You can view the video here.

COTA Tasmania has also developed a simple, one-page flyer about ageism and elder abuse. You can access it here and print it out for yourself, your friends, your work colleagues or community groups.

If you are interested in discussing ageism online, you might also be interested in the Facebook group Ageism Prevention.

What can I do to combat ageism?

Below are a our tips on how every one of us can combat ageism anywhere, anytime:

  1. Watch the video at www.everyagecounts.org.au.
  2. Try not to be ageist in your own words, actions and decisions.
  3. Start to notice ageism, both obvious and subtle. Call it out when you can, and talk about it with your friends.
  4. Explain why it is unacceptable when you encounter it in:
    • the media
    • your elected representatives
    • your community
    • your family
    • your friends
    • yourself
  5. Reframe ageing in your own conversations, so others will also start to think about it differently. You can do this by
    • putting it another way
    • accentuating the positives
  6. If an older person you know devalues themself, disagree and talk to them about their rights.
  7. If you are a younger person, get to know more older people and invite them into your group.
  8. Don’t let other people’s ageism influence the decisions you make about your future security and happiness, or the way you live your life.

At COTA Tasmania, we have a peer education program called “You’re worth it”. That title sums it up, really. Being older in no way diminishes your humanity or your right to be treated with the same respect as everyone else. You’re entitled to make your own decisions, you’re entitled to information that relates to you, you’re entitled to use your own money as you wish, you’re entitled to health care. Please remember this and make your wishes known.

If you would like to arrange a “You’re worth it” talk for your community group, contact kereer@cotatas.org.au.

Help to make your wishes known

If you need support to talk to your loved ones about what’s important to you as you age, the Elder Relationship Service can help.

The Elder Relationship Service, offered by Relationships Australia Tasmania, includes both mediation and counselling services to support older people and their families who need help negotiating complex issues related to the older person or caring for an older person.

Elder Relationship Services can assist older people and their families to:

  • prevent or resolve family conflict
  • have difficult conversations
  • plan for the future (including medical, health, financial or living arrangements)
  • resolve differences in ways that improve their relationships and
  • make decisions that protect the interests, rights and safety of families.

People can attend on their own, with their partner, or with a support person.

The Elder Relationship Service is voluntary and confidential within the limits of the law. Everyone has an opportunity to express their view with the support of an independent qualified practitioner. The Elder Relationship Service is staffed by trained mediators and counsellors and with specific skills in delivering services to people experiencing conflict about ageing-related issues.

The decisions made at elder mediation are not legally binding. However, the practitioner can assist to document any agreements made in writing. For more information about the service, download the information sheet or visit the website.

Have you been discriminated against because of your age?

If you think you have been discriminated against because of your age, you may be able to take action by making a formal complaint or anonymously informing: