Ageism is not a new idea. Prejudices and biases against older (and younger) people on the basis of their biological age proliferate in society at both interpersonal and systemic levels. However, in recent years there is a growing understanding that having negative thoughts about ageing in turn negatively impacts health and wellbeing as one ages. With a rapidly ageing global population, reframing the narrative around ageing as a period of growth, happiness, health and functional ability is critical.
"What was the hardest prejudice to let go of? A prejudice against myself – my own future, older self – as inferior to my younger self. That’s the linchpin of age denial.” – Ashton Applewhite
The idea that all older people are the same perpetuates a disconnect between preconceived notions of ageing and the diverse experiences of older people that exist in actuality. One individual who has committed their career to challenging problematic ageist assumptions is Ashton Applewhite. In a recent Globe and Mail article, she debunks many myths associated with ageing and discusses the importance of developing a nuanced understanding of the many ways ageism manifests in daily life.
To illustrate the variation in ageist stereotypes, the article highlighted multiple myths that promote a negative view of ageing. Experts can help to dispel ageist myths, for example Ms Applewhite illustrated that despite the ongoing fear associated with cognitive decline as one ages, dementia rates are actually dropping. IFA Expert Professor Michael Valenzuela can be contacted to learn more about cognitive decline and how to promote cognitive reserve throughout life.
Another myth addressed by Ms Applewhite was that although popular media often portrays older people as depressed, in actuality people are happiest at the beginning and end of their lives. As head of Geriatric Psychiatry, Dr. Joel Sadavoy is an expert in the mental health of older people and can be contacted for more information on associations between depression and ageing.
Further to the assumption that older people are mentally unwell, the article addressed the broad assumption that they are also “sick and helpless.” IFA Expert Dr Regina Roller-Wirnsberger, an expert in healthy ageing and internal medicine, can address and dispel myths regarding ageing and health.
The article by Ms Applewhite illustrates how a personal journey to understand her own perceptions of ageing transformed into the anti-ageism work she leads today. While there is no simple way to combat ageism, understanding how individual experiences impacts ageing and experiences of ageism and addressing the ageist ideas that persist in our society are critical first steps to eliminating this form of prejudice.
“What can we do, individually and collectively, to provoke the necessary shift in consciousness, and catalyze a radical age movement to make it happen?” – Ashton Applewhite
Dr. Regina Roller-Wirnsberger President
Professor of Geriatrics and Competency Based Curriculum Development at the Medical University of Graz in the Department of Internal Medicine
Dr. Joel Sadavoy Head of Geriatric Psychiatry
Dr. Joel Sadavoy is a Professor of Psychiatry and inaugural holder of theSam and Judy Pencer Chair in Applied General Psychiatry.
Prof. Michael Valenzuela Associate Professor
Psychology, clinical medicine, and neuroscience expert, exploring how complex mental activity impacts dementia