Earlier this year, a 33-year-old actress disguised herself as Doris, a 90-year-old woman, and went shopping. She said she had never felt so alone. Doris was ignored by passers-by and felt invisible on the streets, in stores and in cafés. Fellow shoppers impatiently rolled their eyes at her when she struggled with her wallet and, when she was acknowledged, people spoke to her condescendingly as if she were a child. She found the experience lonely, humiliating, sad and frightening and couldn’t wait to remove her make-up and return to her 33-year-old self again.
What is ageism?
What the 90-year-old Doris experienced was ageism. It’s a form of discrimination experienced by the elderly. Ageism is based on a belief that all older people are the same –slow, incompetent or senile. This is a cruel dismissal of an older person’s talents, abilities, intelligence, and humour. It is a hurtful form of bias that affects everyone, including our future older selves.
How does ageism affect older people?
Inside an older body is usually a mentally alert and capable person who wishes to connect and continue contributing to society in a meaningful way. Ageism can undermine a senior’s confidence and make them feel devalued.
Ageist attitudes make it easier to justify abuse – be this physical, emotional or financial abuse of older people. Ageism and elder abuse affect many older adults in B.C. and around the world. If an abused senior has no one to talk to, or depends on the abuser for companionship or care, it can be difficult for them to find a way out of their situation.
What can you do to make a difference for the older people in your community?
- Avoid ageist comments and jokes. Ageism is subtle and everywhere, even embedded within our everyday language. Many older people desperately try to remain young-looking because they are often dismissed as being an old hag, old crony, or over the hill. Try to avoid using this language.
- Don’t ignore older people. Instead, reach out to an older person with a smile, warm eye contact or a polite greeting. Help them feel seen and connected.
- Call your aging relative, older friend or neighbour and let them know that you care. Maintaining regular contact with the older people in your life will help reduce their risk of elder abuse.
- Invite an older adult to share a cup of tea or a walk with you and ask them what they feel passionate about.
- Speak up and put a stop to ageism and elder abuse. As a society, we no longer tolerate racist or sexist comments or actions. Share this article with friends and family and spread awareness.
- Wear purple on June 15 World Elder Abuse Awareness Day to start a conversation and inspire others to think about how they have internalized ageism.
If you are concerned someone you know is experiencing abuse or if you want to find out more, call the Seniors Abuse and Information Line 1-866-437-1940, 7 days per week, 8 a.m.-8 p.m. If you believe someone is in danger, call 9-1-1. Learn more about what you can do to prevent elder abuse.
Author’s Bio: Today’s blog was written by staff working on elder abuse prevention at the Seniors’ Services Branch in the Ministry of Health.