Written by Michele Dinman, MPH, project coordinator at the WashU for Life Initiative, Harvey A. Friedman Center for Aging
October 7 is Ageism Awareness Day. Led by the American Society on Aging, it is held to raise awareness of the existence and impact of ageism in our communities.
The World Health Organization, in its Global Campaign to Combat Ageism, defines ageism as the stereotypes (how people think), prejudice (how people feel) and discrimination (how people act) directed towards others or oneself based on age. Ageism is prevalent in American society, and it is something that most everyone will experience at some point in their lives. Ageism can be directed at people of any age, but young adults and older adults are most often the recipients.
The Harvey A. Friedman Center for Aging has developed resources on the impact of ageism and what can be done to reduce it.
Understanding & Confronting Ageism, is a background paper providing foundational information and resources to reduce ageism in institutions of higher education and in the communities that they are located. To go along with this document, we also created an infographic, Ageism: How it Affects us all, to illustrate the types of ageism, its effects and what can be done to combat it.
The Center has written several blog posts on ageism awareness including one describing internalized ageism – discriminating against ourselves as we age. Andrew Steward, in his article “Toward interventions to reduce internalized ageism” explains that internalized ageism is so harmful because we are usually not even aware that we are experiencing it, and its influence on ourselves and other people, so we are unlikely to change our behavior.
By also examining and changing the way we communicate about older people, we can begin to help ourselves and others see aging in a more positive way and increase awareness of all types of ageism. We are working with organizations, such as the Reframing Aging Initiative, a long-term social change endeavor designed to counter ageism by improving the understanding of what aging means, to develop tools that help alleviate negative beliefs about aging. A presentation PowerPoint that we developed, Age Inclusive Language Guidelines, provides best practices for age inclusive language.
The American Society on Aging has several resources on how to promote Ageism Awareness Day available on their website, such as a media toolkit, a sample press release, and a sample proclamation to share with your local government and elected officials. Their site also contains a list of facts about ageism.
Changing the Narrative shares ways that we can communicate about aging and ageism and five things that we can do to end the occurrence of ageism.
On October 7, celebrate people of all ages and learn how you can help reduce ageism. The next time you hear or say, “She looks so good for her age”, “I was having a senior moment”, “Only old people go there”, “You don’t look 70!”; or, think that someone isn’t qualified for a job because of their age; or give someone a birthday card that mocks, instead of celebrates, getting older, think about how these words and actions contribute to ageism. Even though they are thought to be harmless jokes or compliments, they put down older (or younger) people and further exacerbate the stereotypes around age. Instead, together, let’s promote positive messages about aging.
Additional Anti-Ageism Resources:
AARP Disrupt Ageism challenges outdated beliefs about aging and encourages people to re-think the negative stories we tell ourselves and each other about growing older. How Old is Old? Millennials Show Us What “Old” Looks Like
AARP Disrupt Aging Classroom is a two-hour, interactive curriculum that challenges students to examine their aging perceptions and to think about how the aging population is relevant to their personal lives and future careers.
The Academy for Gerontology in Higher Education (AGHE) is the educational unit of The Gerontological Society of America and is a membership network of colleges and universities that offers education, training, and research programs in the field of aging.
This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism by Ashton Applewhite. Her TED talk on the subject has been viewed more than 1.3 million times.
Ageism First Aid is an online multi-module course that supports factual conversations about aging and sparks widespread use of positive aging-related language among people in the health and helping professions. Three one-hour modules; $30 for GSA non-members; $20 for GSA members; and $15 for students.