Ageism reduces the role seniors can play
Dr. Jane Barratt, writing for The West Australian
Believe it or not, Perth — the most isolated city in the world — is now at the center of the worldwide age-friendly movement. The State Government was recently named as an affiliate member of the World Health Organization’s Global Network for Age-friendly Cities and Communities.
There’s no question we are living in an ageing society, with the celebration of longer life expectancy and, on the whole, improved health. By 2050, the proportion of the world’s population over 60 years will be 22 per cent, that’s about two billion people. Older adults will also have outnumbered children under the age of 14 years. In WA, nearly one in three citizens will be aged 65 years and over.
One of the biggest social transformations in the 21st century, the rate at which our population is ageing means the contributions of older people cannot and should not be minimized. Older people are active contributors to the economy with a significant percentage of people over 65 years in paid employment, volunteering or supporting someone like a grandchild or young relative.
Yet despite the growing contribution of this important demographic — ageism, stereotyping and discrimination on the basis of age — remains widespread and deceptive. For older people, it’s an everyday challenge, being overlooked for a job, or even a volunteer position, stereotyped in the media or being marginalized in their own community.
Ageism is as insidious as racism or sexism, yet in a society that often values youth and beauty, it remains the most tolerated form of prejudice.
Ageism affects us all by limiting the contribution older people make to our economy and hampering their autonomy and independence. It will also affect us all personally, if we are fortunate to grow older.
The negative attitudes of ageism often lead to social isolation with associated significant impacts on the health and wellbeing of older people.
Older people often feel a burden and perceive their lives to be less valuable, or even invisible. We already know from research that people who view their own ageing negatively also tend to live on average 71⁄2 years less than people with positive attitudes.
The environment in which we live has just as big an impact on our health and well-being as our genes and physical traits. If we as individuals and society are to combat ageism, we must challenge our own assumptions of growing older and legitimize the significant and sustained contributions of older adults to family and society.
Honest conversations need to occur about just how inclusive and dynamic the environments in which we live in really are. There’s also another facet that comes into play in multicultural communities. Does the inclusiveness accorded to older people extend to people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds — a group that already faces its own unique set of challenges?
Inclusive communities benefit all ages by enabling people to be connected within and across generations and together positively contribute to the economic, social and cultural life into their old age. In doing so they also connect across generations and give value to all ages.
By challenging ageism in an extraordinary and positive way, we are acknowledging and owning the collective responsibility for positive change. This week, I have the pleasure of being part of the age-friendly WA workshop in Perth. The initiative of the State Government will attract about 120 representatives from across government, and the private and communities sectors to transform discussions into action to address the challenges of our ageing population.
Combating ageism is a fight that will take citizens of all ages coming together for positive effect and impact current and future generations. In the culture of the longest living people in the world, the Okinawans, ikigai is thought of as “a reason to get up in the morning”; that is, a reason to enjoy life. Today, and right now each and every West Australian can reach out in their own unique way to older people.
Older people often feel a burden and perceive their lives to be less valuable.