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Leaves Shadow
  • Kristin Webb

Everyday Ageism

Updated: Feb 7

Once you reach a ‘certain age’, it is highly likely that you will experience ageism.  Granted, the term ‘certain age’ is nebulous and highly individualized, but often it begins in your 40’s or 50’s. Suddenly, you're seeing ageism everywhere. If you're not used to being a part of a marginalized group, this can be jarring, and even for those who are, ageism is yet another layer of discrimination.

Older adults often first experience ageism in the workplace.  Despite their wealth of experience and knowledge, older workers often face barriers to employment and career advancement. Employers may view older adults as less adaptable, less tech-savvy and a more prone to health issues.  This can result in early retirement, lower income, and loss of purpose and identity for many older adults, which can have a negative impact on their financial security and self-worth.

Ageism within healthcare settings can impact the quality and type of care older adults receive. Healthcare professionals' biases may influence their treatment decisions, often leading to either underestimation or overestimation of an older person's medical needs. This can result in inappropriate or inadequate care, affecting older adults' overall health and longevity.

The portrayal of older adults in the media often reinforces stereotypes rather than offering a realistic representation of aging. Older individuals are frequently depicted as frail, dependent, or out of touch, ignoring the diversity of experiences and lifestyles among this demographic. Such representations contribute to societal misconceptions about aging, influencing how older adults are treated and perceived in various contexts.

The impact of ageism on individuals is significant and multi-faceted.  It can exacerbate social isolation among older adults. Stereotypes and misconceptions about aging can lead to reduced opportunities for social engagement and a lack of initiative from the community to include older individuals in social activities. This isolation can have profound effects on the mental and physical health of older adults, underscoring the importance of fostering inclusive communities that actively engage individuals of all ages.

Ageism can significantly impact the mental health of older adults. Experiencing or even perceiving age discrimination can lead to increased stress, depression, and a sense of worthlessness. This psychological distress can exacerbate feelings of loneliness and isolation, further affecting an individual's well-being. Moreover, internalized ageism—where older adults accept negative stereotypes about aging as true—can result in a diminished sense of self-efficacy and autonomy.

The effects of ageism are not limited to mental health; they also have a tangible impact on physical health. Research has shown that older adults who internalize ageist stereotypes may experience a decline in physical health, including decreased physical function and an increased risk of chronic diseases. Ageism in healthcare settings can lead to under-treatment or over-treatment of health conditions, as well as delayed diagnoses, all of which compromise the health outcomes of older adults.

The cumulative effect of ageism is a significant reduction in the quality of life for older adults. Discrimination and stereotypes can limit access to services, reduce independence, and diminish an individual's sense of self-worth and respect. This not only affects the individual's day-to-day life but also undermines their contribution to society, leading to a cycle of marginalization and exclusion.

Fortunately, there are antidotes for ageism.  In next month’s blog, we’ll explore what we all can do to eradicate ageism. 

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