A positive view of ageing

By Susan Ward-Rice, Diversity & Inclusion Officer at Dorset Council

In both BCP and Dorset Council areas, the number of older people is above average. In the BCP area alone, there are over 85,000 people aged 65+, whilst in the rest of Dorset the figure is in excess of 107,000 – and those numbers are set to increase over the next decade.

Similarly, the age profile nationally is changing and the number of people aged 65+ will increase by more than 40% within 20 years. The number of households where the older person is 85 and over is increasing faster than any other age group (ONS, 2017).

So when we think about older people, are we having positive or negative thoughts?

Unfortunately, research indicates that we often think negatively about them. From the age of six onwards*, society tells us that growing old is a bad thing and this negative attitude is especially reflected in our media.

50% of John Lewis’ TV adverts feature people over the age 50, but their entire 2019 Instagram feed – containing more than 650 posts – had just one which featured someone over 50. Another example is beauty brand No. 7 which regularly features someone over 50 in their TV adverts, yet some of their social media posts continue to use anti-ageing language such as ‘fight signs of ageing’ and ‘discover best age-defying results’.

What is ageism?

Ageism or age discrimination is when someone treats you unfairly because of your age. One in three people in the UK report experiencing age prejudice or age discrimination.

It can take many forms, from depicting older people as helpless, frail, incompetent and out-of-touch to discriminatory practices in healthcare. It can involve raising concerns about whether or not older people should receive medical treatment; whether they should be refused car and travel insurance or financial credit because of their age, and so on.

A recent report by the Centre for Ageing Better, entitled Doddery But Dear?, shows that older people are widely mocked and demonised by the rest of society. The report looked at existing research on attitudes to ageing and found that older workers are seen as having lower levels of performance and lesser ability to learn, as well as being more costly than younger workers.

People’s protected characteristics also influence how people are viewed. For example an older man may be spoken about differently to an older woman. The report also found that when a person has multiple identities this often results in a ‘double jeopardy’. So where people are already marginalised because of their ethnicity or sex, this is further stigmatised as they age.

Negative attitudes about older people can have a significant impact on physical and mental health. Research indicates that older people who feel they are a burden perceive their lives to be less valuable, putting them at risk of depression and social isolation.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) suggests that older people who hold negative views about their own ageing do not recover as well from illness and live on average 7.5 years less than people with positive attitudes.

Why talk about this now?

Today, on 1st October, we celebrate the International Day of Older Persons. The theme for this year is challenging perceptions around older age and turning perceived negatives into positives.

As individuals and organisations, we can all play our part by:

  • taking a positive view of ageing;
  • treating older people with respect and dignity;
  • challenging ageism, such as ageist language and age discrimination;
  • making sure that older people’s voices are listened to and acted upon.

*Source: Ageing Better (Link)

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