In 1968 Dr. Robert Butler coined the term “ageism” to describe the systematic discrimination against older people. He equated it to racism and sexism during the Civil Rights movement. It has been over 45 years since Dr. Butler raised this issue, yet our culture has not changed. Ageism remains an often overlooked barrier that exists across most communities in the US, putting unfair limitations on older adults’ abilities to live to their fullest potential and devaluing them as individuals.
As a community we have seen deep cuts to programs designed to keep older adults healthy and active. While the unemployment rate is dropping for most groups, people over 55 still face a job search that will last 5 months longer than those of their younger peers. Sadly consequences of ageism are sometimes life-or-death. When Hurricane Katrina struck Louisiana 75% of the people who perished were over the age of 60, making it clear that older adults were not the priority in either evacuation or rescue plans.
As individuals we must look at ourselves to challenge our stereotypes of older adults. Who hasn’t uttered the words, “What a cute old lady?” or felt pity at the sight of an older man working in a grocery store. While it may seem harmless or even affectionate, looking at a person and only seeing his or her age can quickly lead us down a road where older people are no longer trusted to make their own decisions about their health or their lives. We need attitude change to reverse this discrimination and see people for who they are, what they have accomplished and what they will accomplish.
In fact, research has shown that fighting ageism can help us all live longer, happier lives. On October 28th, over 170 people attended the Agency on Aging of South Central Connecticut’s annual meeting to hear from Dr. Becca Levy, a tenured professor in the Yale School of Public Health and one of the leading voices on ageism nationwide. Dr. Levy shared her recent research which shows that older adults with a more positive view of aging perform significantly better on memory tests.
As part of the Agency on Aging’s mission to advocate for independence, we are committed to building awareness, breaking down stereotypes and challenging unfair policies. Our ultimate goal is to bring back the belief that aging is a natural part of life and not a problem to be solved – we hope you’ll join us.