At first thought, “Ageism” is an odd word, and it sounds like some Star Trek term that a Vulcan scientist would use. Rest assured that we earthlings understand the word just as well as you overly logical extraterrestrials do.
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines ageism as “dislike of or prejudices against old people.” Anyone who has ever spent time in a senior setting knows that ageist attitudes are alive and well in our society. You may not realize that ageism can affect seniors, their families, friends, and even senior setting staff members!
Ageism has been around for a while, but its new name hasn’t always been called it. Sometimes it is referred to as anti-aging prejudice or gerontophobia. No matter the title, the term is tied to hatred and dislike.
Older adults and persons with disabilities heavily populate senior settings. Because of that, environments of senior settings can be ageist in some ways, and being ageist is harshly discriminating against older adults or persons with disabilities.
Effects of Ageism on Seniors
The effects of ageism on seniors in residential care settings include:
Low self-esteem. Many seniors in residential care settings have been victims of ageist comments or actions, and this can cause them to feel worthless and unwanted by others.
Depression and anxiety. Seniors who experience ageism may feel lonely and isolated, leading to depression and anxiety disorders. It can also affect their sleep patterns and eating habits, increasing the risk for chronic diseases like diabetes or heart disease.
Isolation from friends and family members. Older adults who live in residential care settings often feel isolated due to a lack of social interaction with other people their own age or younger than them because they spend most of their time interacting with staff members who are usually much more youthful than they are. The lack of social interaction may make them even more depressed than they would if they lived at home or in another type of senior housing that allows residents more freedom.
Lack of access to health care. Medicare beneficiaries may have trouble getting medical care because they can’t find a doctor who will see them or don’t have the money to pay for care.
How to Combat Ageism
So what can we do about this? How can we combat ageism? Here are some tips:
Don’t judge people by their appearance. Just because someone looks older doesn’t mean they are “old.” And just because someone looks younger doesn’t mean they’re “young.” Judge them by their actions instead of their appearance — that way, everyone has a fair chance at success.
Stop spending so much money on anti-aging products and services. Instead, spend that money on things that will improve your health and well-being — like exercise equipment, healthy foods, and freshwater filters for your home (to reduce exposure to toxic chemicals from plastic bottles). These things aren’t expensive!
Obligation. Recognize that you must treat others fairly and respectfully regardless of their age.
Respect. Respect the diversity of generations within your organization or community.
Address concerns. Address issues head-on if they arise among staff members or other groups in your organization or community.
Respond quickly. Respond quickly when you hear negative comments about older adults from staff members or other groups within your organization or community. Tell them that their comments are unacceptable and will not be tolerated; give them examples of how such words can hurt someone’s feelings; remind them that this kind of behavior is illegal under federal law (Title VII).
Strategies for Senior Setting Staff
Here are some strategies for senior setting staff to combat ageism:
- Recognize that every person is an individual with unique abilities and needs.
- Never assume anything about a person based on their age or appearance alone.
- Use inclusive language when speaking with or about your residents or clients, such as “people” instead of “elderly” or “seniors.”
- Never patronize your residents or clients using terms like “little old lady” or “grandpa.” This is just as bad as condescending terms like “dearie” or “sweetie pie.”
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions if you need more information about what is helpful for a client’s situation instead of assuming you know what they need because they’re older than you are!
As our population ages, seniors facing frailty and other problems associated with growing older will likely be cared for in senior settings such as nursing homes or assisted living facilities. Unfortunately, ageism is still a significant problem in society today, affecting residents and staff in senior settings alike.
As this article has illustrated, ageism is an important social issue that must be addressed. The senior setting staff has an essential role in this quest to improve the lives of seniors who are cared for in their facilities.