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How Ageism Affects More Than Just Older Adults

For many years, psychologists’ research has proven that ageism affects the mental and physical health of older adults by considering them as less worthy or capable. Ageist beliefs result in differential treatment towards seniors. Robert Butler who invented the term ‘ageism’ in 1969 further defined it as a difference in one’s feelings, beliefs or behaviours based on another person’s chronological age.

Psychologists who study the effects of ageism have concluded that stereotypes against older people affect all age groups. According to Becca Levy, Ph.D., professor of psychology at Yale University, children and young adults are exposed to negative stereotypes about older people and they apply these stereotypes to themselves as they grow older. This leads to acute mental health issues among them.

“I can’t leave my grandfather alone at home.” Not only does this sentence make older adults feel less confident, but also impacts the thinking process of the youth towards them. It shapes how younger people think about older adults and how they will think of themselves as they age. The thought of being less capable is put into their heads at a young age, which results in lowered self-esteem while ageing.

Ageism tends to keep ageing at a distance rather than considering it as a part of life. This type of thinking creates a negative barrier in the ageing process which leads us to ignore the fact that ageing is a natural process and one day, will happen to us too. We are all ageing, and one’s personal views and opinions towards ageing are important in determining their future lifestyle.

Ageism is not limited to discrimination based on an ‘older’ age. In fact, ageism is very common among younger adults, mostly at work. During an economic decline, it is the younger working adults that have a hard time finding jobs. Based on their age, recruiters tend to assume they don’t meet the requirements or have enough experience. Younger people are also more likely to report ageism as compared to older adults, who may overlook certain incidents. Younger people are more likely to notice these incidents, especially if they have an ageing adult in their family.

Liat Ayalon, professor at Bar Ilan University, mentions in her book, ‘Contemporary Perspectives of Ageism’, That as people grow older, stereotypes about ageing acquired in their youth and childhood turn out to have been internalized throughout the years and now affect how they age. Knowing that ageism affects us all is an important message that may help young people understand why they should not accept ageism.

Ageism affects our lives in every aspect — individual, interpersonal, professional and societal. Covid-19 pandemic is a great example of the negative consequences of ageism. It showed how the younger generation thought of themselves being invincible to the virus. A lot of incidents were seen where they refused to quarantine or wear masks in public, thinking they are safe because they are young and healthy, making them immune to the virus. On the other hand, older adults were targeted as weak and vulnerable, even in the media. This made them live more in fear, increased their stress and in spite of alternatives or safety measures, stopped doing the few activities that were making them happy. We need to avoid this approach — where younger people are considered happy and healthy while older adults frail, weak and more at risk.

The saddest part of ageism is that we fall prey to it more often than we think. Cultural and social beliefs tend to change our thought process and make us ageists even though we don’t want to. Negative stereotypes against ageing people, as well as self-age stereotypes, impact the ageing process and mortality of people from all age groups. By standing up against ageism, we can improve the mental health of seniors and prevent younger people from becoming self-ageists, unfit and separate from society as they grow older.

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