Ageism is one of those things that is invisible, until you learn how to recognize it.
Then, suddenly, you see it everywhere.
We live in a youth-centric society. And there’s a lot to be said for young people. But discounting the value of older people hurts everyone.
As a society, as employers, as people—we’re poorer when we dismiss or ignore older people.
But ageism is one of the last socially acceptable forms of prejudice and discrimination.
It’s also unique in that it’s been called prejudice against our future selves.
You’re not going to wake up one day with skin that’s a different color than the one you were born with. But if you’re fortunate, you will have the privilege of growing old.
Ageism also intersects with other forms of discrimination. For instance, women are subjected to ageism earlier in life than men. Gendered ageism is a huge topic in itself.
Perhaps the most surprising thing about ageism is that when it’s turned inward, it can have a powerful negative influence on a person’s physical and mental health.
It can even shorten your life. People with a negative view of aging die roughly seven years earlier than those with the most positive perceptions of aging.
My heartfelt thanks to the interviewees who so kindly shared their time and expertise:
- Dr. David Burnes, Canada Research Chair in Older Adult Mistreatment Prevention, and a professor in the University of Toronto’s Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work, and an affiliate scientist at Baycrest/Rotman Research Institute and the Canadian Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse.
- Dr. Alison Chasteen, a professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Toronto.
- Dr. Esme Fuller-Thomson, professor and director of the Institute for Life Course and Aging (with cross-appointments to the Departments of Family and Community Medicine and the Faculty of Nursing), at the University of Toronto.
- Dr. Teresa Liu-Ambrose, a physiotherapist, professor, and Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in Healthy Aging, co-director of the Centre for Aging SMART, at the Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute, Djavad Mowafaghian Centre for Brain Health, Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute, and the Department of Physical Therapy at the University of British Columbia. Dr. Liu-Ambrose is also a CIHR (Canadian Institutes of Health Research) funded researcher.
- Dr. Gail Low, post-doctoral Quality of Life fellow, and associate professor in the Faculty of Nursing at the University of Alberta in Edmonton.
- Dr. Paula Rochon, a senior scientist at the Women’s College Research Institute, director of the Women’s Age Lab, and professor in the Department of Medicine and the Institute of Health Policy, Management and Evaluation at the University of Toronto. Dr. Rochon is also the Retired Teachers of Ontario Chair in Geriatric Medicine, and a senior scientist at ICES (Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences).
A big thank-you, too, to three women with whose stories and insights I didn’t have space to include:
- Melsande Dean
- Kelly Thompson
- Dr. Annalijn Conklin, Michael Smith Health Research BC Scholar, assistant professor | CORE | Faculty of Pharmeutical Sciences, at the University of British Columbia’s Vancouver campus, and a scientist at CAHO | Providence Health Care Research Institute.