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  • Writer's pictureTammy Lautner

Oh That Old Person! - Unmasking Ageism

Oct 7th was Ageism Awareness Day. Ageism, the discrimination or prejudice against individuals based on their age, is a pervasive issue in today's society. One of the most significant manifestations of ageism is directed towards seniors, the very people who have contributed to society for decades. I personally have seen how prevalent this issue is within our society when I am out with my 88 yr old mom and 92 yr old dad. The way that store clerks or servers interact with them as if they are deaf, senile and just plain slow. They are not any of those things! It's not that they're old, they’re taking their time! I don’t believe that most people consciously discriminate towards someone that is older, but it most definitely is there.

Stereotyping is a common form of ageism that seniors endure. Society often portrays them as frail, technologically challenged, and lacking in relevance. These stereotypes can lead to marginalization, isolation, and a sense of worthlessness among seniors. In reality, many seniors lead vibrant and active lives, defying these stereotypes daily. I saw such evidence of this at the event I volunteered at last week hosted by Age Friendly Edmonton to showcase the many talents of seniors in our city. I can assure you first hand that none of those seniors were frail or ready for the nursing home.

The assumption that a senior is no longer mentally sharp, that they are weak and frail, or that they are all bound for nursing homes is not an accurate picture. The reality of it is that seniors are greatly relied upon to help run programming for many non-profits. They are active in our seniors centres across the city and they are helping to raise their grandchildren.

Ageism is deeply ingrained in healthcare systems, leading to disparities in medical treatment. Some healthcare providers may dismiss seniors' concerns, attributing their symptoms to old age rather than conducting thorough evaluations. This can result in delayed diagnoses and inadequate care. One point I would like to make here - dementia is not a ‘normal’ part of aging! The percentage of seniors that have been diagnosed with some form of dementia is close to 1% of Albertans.

Ageism contributes to social isolation and loneliness among seniors. They may feel excluded from social activities, ignored by family members, or neglected by friends, which can have severe mental and emotional consequences.

Media and advertising often perpetuate ageist stereotypes, presenting an unrealistic image of youth as the ideal. Seniors are underrepresented and are rarely depicted in meaningful, diverse roles. Such portrayals reinforce ageism in society.

Seniors may face barriers when accessing various opportunities, such as education, housing, and transportation. Age-based restrictions can limit their choices and independence, further perpetuating ageism.

Addressing ageism requires advocacy and increased awareness. Seniors and their allies must work to challenge ageist beliefs, policies, and practices. Initiatives promoting intergenerational connections and celebrating the wisdom and experiences of seniors can help combat ageism. I have joined the ageism awareness committee through the Edmonton Seniors Coordinating Council. I look forward to moving the needle on this issue and educating more people on the positive realities of aging and the senior population.

Ageism against seniors is a deeply ingrained issue that affects various aspects of their lives, from employment to healthcare and social interactions. It perpetuates harmful stereotypes and marginalizes a segment of society that deserves respect and recognition for their contributions. To combat ageism, individuals, communities, and governments must work together to raise awareness, challenge discriminatory practices, and foster a society that values and supports seniors in their quest for a dignified and fulfilling life. Embracing the wisdom and experiences of seniors benefits us all and makes society more inclusive and compassionate. Seniors still have so much to give, many insightful things to teach, stories to tell and legacies to build.

Now I don't know about you, but I think there's quite a bit of vitality left for these seniors in this video...

Wild Rose Old Time Fiddlers performing at 'An Artistic Celebration' event to raise awareness on ageism.

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