Sitting here pondering this week’s topic, I wonder if it’s too big to tackle—discussing age and its biases is HUGE. It can lead to talking about “Sex over Sixty” (or Seventy or Eighty) for example. Or we might wanna tackle why Millennials are so hated in the workplace. We might chat about why women become invisible as we age, or why young people don’t have the same work ethic as older people.
See? This could go all sorts of different ways (though one of my favorites was “Sex over Sixty”). But let’s start with our own ageist biases and where they pop up. As we continue to come out of the Pandemic and all its scariness, the moment I was most afraid was when the hospitals and ERs were full. People were dying left and right here in the good ‘ole USA., especially in the coastal areas. Long-Term Care Facilities and Nursing Homes were hit terribly hard.
It didn’t take long for some hospitals to announce they were considering de-prioritizing vulnerable parts of the population. “On 23 March 2020, a group of doctors and academics from around the world published a set of ethical guidelines in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), outlining how to ration resources during the Covid-19 pandemic. Among the recommendations made by the paper’s authors is that at times like this, the usual approach of treating people on a “first-come, first-served” basis should not apply. It also urges prioritizing severely ill patients who are younger and who have fewer existing health conditions.”
We all know what that means: If you have pre-existing health conditions (50% of Americans do) your chance of surviving COVID is much less than someone with none. I also heard one medical group discussing sending anyone over age 65 to the “back of the line”. Thus, my fear. This is simply one form of age discrimination.
What about young people today? How many times do we hear someone say “Kids these days just don’t wanna work!” or “Young workers today have no initiative, their work ethic is very low.” Whether you’re a young adult or older adult, folks, this is AGEISM ON STEROIDS. Here in the good ‘ole USA we do it quite well. And that is SAD. Any age can be affected by bias.
When people are astonished at my chronological age, they immediately say- “You look GREAT for your age!” And they think it’s a compliment. To be truthful, I used to think of it as a compliment! In reality, it’s a very ageist remark. And I need to make people aware of that. Hollywood and the media have so focused on youth and its attributes that we have forgotten the reality of life and health and age. We have forgotten the importance of intergenerational contact—and the pandemic made it worse.
Isolation—one of the best answers to COVID—was especially hard on people who live alone. People of all ages were encouraged to stay home, and that was a good thing for our physical health. But not for our mental health. So now we are picking up the pieces of our lives and slipping back into the same ageist attitudes we had before the Pandemic. Turns out our youth obsessed culture is alive and well. And Hollywood is not helping making movies about immature men or unattractive older women.
Back in 2015, a movie entitled “The Intern” did an excellent job of reminding us that older adults have much to offer the workplace. The next year, Hollywood releases a stupid film like “Dirty Grandpa”--I find it hard to believe they actually spent money producing a film like that! Does the American audience really have the maturity of a 13-year-old? "My Name is Doris” also came out about that time. Its reviews were a little more tolerable than “Dirty Grandpa” but I still felt like they were making fun of an older woman who had feelings just like you and I do. Why does Hollywood have such a difficult time intelligently portraying older people without making fun of them? I guess it all comes down to their basic insecurities about growing older. (It’s called egoistic ageism, btw).
People do tend to lose power as they age. Women (who are less likely to have less power than men to begin with) especially become overlooked. It’s been proven in medical research that when it comes to illness, younger people with cancer receive more medical attention than do older people with cancer. Amazing, isn’t it? But it's factual.
Another interesting fact is that men over 60 can be seen as wise and sought-after mentors. Women? Invisible and low in value. It should be no surprise that women and people of color are most affected (negatively) by ageism. Sari Botton, the Gen X creator of Oldster magazine, explains the reality that women face this way: “We live in a youth-obsessed, cis-hetero, white supremacist patriarchy that celebrates only certain kinds of beauty, at certain points in life.”
Some cultures around the world, like Japan and China, still respect and honor their elders. It’s also true in the cultures of India, Greece, Korea, and with Native Americans. So how can we change our attitudes?
1.) Give more attention to ageism; call it out when you see it happening.
2.) Stop using (and purchasing) anti-aging (products). It’s as if there’s a cutoff date, especially for women and their looks, when we will simply hit our expiration!
3.) Employers can review (applications) and hire people over 50.
4.) The medical field can check their own biases and treat ALL people with respect and compassion, including older people.
5.) All professionals treating the mental health of people over age 65 need to be recognized by Medicare.
6.) Encourage more medical students to become Geriatricians.
7.) Older adults need to spend time with younger people. Forming intergenerational relationships is one of the best ways to ensure a future free of ageism.
Becca Levy, Yale University professor of public health and psychology, declares, “Only 25 percent of aging health longevity is determined by our genes; 75 percent is determined by environmental and psychological factors, and many of those we can control.” Remember, less than 5% of Americans live in a nursing home. Stay aware of your own age biases and beliefs. And challenge yourself and others when bias happens—especially in the medical community!
This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism
Back in 2015, a movie entitled “The Intern” did an excellent job of reminding us that older adults have much to offer the workplace. The next year, Hollywood releases a stupid film like “Dirty Grandpa” which I find it hard to believe they actually spent money producing. “My Name is Doris” also came out about that time. Its reviews were a little more intelligent than “Dirty Grandpa” but I still felt like they were making fun of an older woman who had feelings just like you and I do. Why does Hollywood have such a difficult time intelligently portraying older people without making fun of them? I guess it all comes down to their basic insecurities about growing older. (It’s called egoistic ageism.) to convince people to purchase products that will retain their youthful appearance and vitality. Wrinkles are embarrassing. Gray hair should be colored and bald heads covered with implants. Older minds and bodies are too frail to keep up with the pace of the modern working world, and elders should just step aside for the new generation. Ashton Applewhite once held these beliefs, too, until she realized where this prejudice comes from and the damage it does. Lively, funny, and deeply researched, This Chair Rocks traces her journey from apprehensive Boomer to pro-aging radical, and in the process debunks myth after myth about late life. Explaining the roots of ageism in history and how it divides and debases, Applewhite examines how ageist stereotypes cripple the way our brains and bodies function, looks at ageism in the workplace and the bedroom, exposes the cost of the all-American myth of independence, critiques the portrayal of elders as burdens to society, describes what an all-age-friendly world would look like, and offers a rousing call to action. It’s time to create a world of age equality by making discrimination on the basis of age as unacceptable as any other kind of bias. Whether you’re older or hoping to get tbook will shake you by the shoulders, cheer you up, make you mad, and change the way you see the rest of your life. Age pride!