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Ageism: understanding and taking action

On September 22, 2017


With International Day of Older Persons this month, we are taking this opportunity to discuss the theme of ageism.  Dr. Matey Mandza, teacher, researcher, lecturer and board member of the Association québécoise de gérontologie, was happy to answer our questions.

 

WHAT EXACTLY DOES THE TERM AGEISM MEAN?

According to Buttler (1975), ageism is a process through which people are stereotyped and discriminated against due to their age and is similar to racism and sexism. In practice, this involves attitudes or prejudices toward older people or the process of ageing. In short, it's having an attitude of contempt based on those prejudices, for example speaking louder to older people assuming that they must be hard of hearing, leaving little room for people who age well or the promotion of “ageing well” or showing impatience when older workers delay taking their retirement.

 

WHO CAN DISCRIMINATE? 

Discrimination can go both ways and be insidious. And sometimes unintentional. If seniors no longer get involved socially thinking that they are no longer useful, this is a type of self-discrimination based on loss of self-esteem. Likewise, overprotection at the expense of seniors’ autonomy without their consent is also a type of ageism. The most common example is deprivation of rights and freedoms. This is what happens when we make decisions for them, thinking we are doing what is best for them. Remember the maxim: “One person's freedom ends where another’s begins.”

 

WHAT CAN WE DO IF WE ARE A WITNESS TO OR VICTIM OF AGEISM?

Say something if we witness it. Be positive, inform, educate and communicate with those around us. This is what I call the social vaccine against prejudices. This way, we will improve knowledge about ageism. Make it understood that ageing is not a disease but a normal stage in the life of a human being. Let's call it a rite of passage. Of course, as we age, sometimes there are losses, but we must not generalize because it is a multilayered and individual process. Many seniors have excelled at what they were doing despite their age.

During a recent mission to Pernambuc University in Brazil, I was pleasantly surprised by a surgeon who was 87 years old and still working; his consult day was full of appointments made in advance. In short, a strategy of communication with practical examples is more effective than an iron fist with people who do not yet understand the meaning of ageing. Ageing is a privilege; ageing with dignity is a right. Remember that we will all die. And biologically, ageing is slowing death. So, let's age and encourage ageing without prejudice.

 

For more information on the subject and the campaign “l’âgisme, parlons-en” [in French], visit the Association québécoise de gérontologie website