A World Health Organization survey of over 83,000 people across 57 countries suggests that negative views on aging are common, older people are not respected, and this combination can lead to a shorter life.
A full 60% of respondents to the survey said that older people “are not respected”. This, plus other elements in the survey, indicated to the researchers that negative views and ageism were common. The lowest levels of respect were reported from high-income countries.
Part of the problem is that most people are oblivious to their subconscious stereotypes about older people. This is not helped by the way older adults and seniors are depicted in media, either, as a bit of research released earlier this month suggested. The good news is that, such as with sexism and racism, it is possible for changing social norms to make people stop defining people by their age. The bad news is that this will take time and, in the meanwhile it may be costing lives.
There are known physical and mental health consequences to the way people perceive themselves and aging in general. Older people who feel they are a burden or incapable—ideas that those around them can reinforce—risk depression and social isolation. Research has suggested that older people who have a negative view on their own aging have trouble recovering from disabilities and actually have shorter lives—an average of 7.5 years shorter.
With the number of people aged 60 and over expected to double by 2025 and to reach 2 billion globally by 2050, society can benefit best from this aging population by learning to reduce and stamp out prejudice. Targeting discriminatory practices that assume all older adults are the same, like mandatory retirement age, is one way of addressing this problem.
October 1 is International Day of Older Persons and this year’s theme is Take a Stand against Ageism.
“Discrimination and negative attitudes about ageing are bad for your health,” World Health Organization web site, September 29, 2016; http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/2016/discrimination-ageing-youth/en/, last accessed September 30, 2016.