There are a lot of discriminatory “isms” and “phobias” out there, many of which have seen increased awareness over the years. But it seems like ageism is rarely discussed and affects many aging adults.
Ageism is prejudice based on people’s advancing age. It can be overt, like not hiring somebody because of their age, not respecting them because of their age, or even something as subtle as giving a loved one a birthday card poking fun about getting older.
According to new research from the University of Michigan, nearly all adults have experienced some form of ageism.
For the study, a research team examined poll results from more than 2,000 people between 50 and 80 years of age and their everyday experiences.
Participants received a score based on their answers to 10 questions about their own beliefs and experiences about aging. The higher the score, the more likely people were to be in poor physical or mental health, have chronic health conditions, and/or show signs of depression.
Sixty-five percent of respondents said they regularly see, hear, or read jokes about older people, and 45 percent said they had more personal experience. Some reported that others assumed they had trouble with technology, vision, hearing, or memory because of their age.
Like other isms, ageism is a source of stress that can manifest itself physically. Stress can increase heart rate and blood pressure, interfere with sleep, and weaken immune strength.
The regular reinforcement of the stereotypes of aging – memory troubles, illness, inability to learn or live independently – can shape how a person thinks about themselves too.
Instead of thinking of aging as another life stage, it is often marked as a time of decline and demise.
It is true that health conditions are more apparent with age. However, that does not mean that activity, youthfulness, and learning cannot continue.
How people think about age, both internally and externally, can take a toll on health. It’s time to start talking about ageism.