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Capacity, Knowledge, Attitude... How We View Older Adults

by Pam Hayle October 05, 2015

woman-phone_300A recent conversation with my grandson reminded me of how insidious biases towards aging can be.

The conversation went something like this: "Grandma, Daddy is smarter than you!" Pretending to be insulted I said, "Why do you say that?" He replied, "Because you can't find things on your phone."

We had recently been having lunch in a restaurant and I tried to pull up an app on my phone. After several attempts, my son-with just a tiny bit of irritation in his voice-took my phone and said, "It's really pretty easy, Mom."

The seeds had been planted that if an older person cannot figure out their phone they must not be very smart! How often do we hear jokes in relation to technology and older people? Those negative comments often even come from the older people themselves.

One of VAN's most successful programs, "Aging with Gusto" addresses stereotypes and our tendency to present older adults as less than or dependent. We need to be intentional about our words and actions. Even a slightly disparaging remark or roll of the eyes can be the start of a bias against older people.

In a major report on aging and health released last week, the World Health Organization noted that negative stereotypes are key barriers to good health for older people. According to the report, "Although there is substantial evidence that older people contribute to society in many ways, they are instead often stereotyped as frail, out of touch, burdensome or dependent. . . . These negative stereotypes are so pervasive that even those who outwardly express the best of intentions may have difficulty avoiding engaging in negative actions and expressions. Furthermore, negative ageist attitudes are often seen as humorous and based in some degree of fact; thus, the humour is often mistakenly assumed to counteract any negative effects on the older person. Yet ageism has been shown to cause lowered levels of self-efficacy, decreased productivity, and cardiovascular stress." Read the full report.

The truth is older people are vital change agents in their communities with tremendous capacity. Older adults should be recognized for the value they bring to our society.


Kris Orluck - December 10, 2015


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