During 2020, the need to talk about ageism — defined by the World Health Organization as “prejudice, stereotypes, and discrimination based on age” — became clearer than ever.
Consider how ageism was exposed during the pandemic. COVID-19 was originally dismissed as a disease affecting only older people. The hashtag #BoomerRemover abounded on social media. Older workers were pushed out of the workforce in higher percentages than any other groups. Personal protective equipment was not initially made available in congregate living settings. Public policies were established that negatively affected older people, policies like Colorado’s Critical Standards of Care, which use scoring mechanisms that effectively push older Coloradans to the back of triage lines if hospitalizations surge and there is a shortage of ICU beds and access to health care professionals.
Yet 2020 also demonstrated the resilience and contributions of older adults:
• Retired health care professionals coming out of retirement to help with the pandemic
• Older Coloradans stepping up to care for grandchildren and other children
• Organizations serving older adults pivoting and creating innovative ways to stay connected and serve those who need more support
Together, this has created an opportunity in 2021 to talk about ageism and its harmful effects.
Ageism is not new. Research has shown its serious consequences on the financial security, physical and mental health, memory life, and even life span of older adults. Recent studies have also shown the negative effects of ageism on communities and on the economy. A study by the Yale School of Public Health found that ageism in health care resulted in $63 billion in annual health care costs in the United States. AARP released a study in 2020 that showed the cost of age discrimination in the workplace in the United States to be $850 billion annually.
The good news? All of us have opportunities to address ageism.
1. We can reframe aging: learning effective ways of communicating about older adult and aging issues that help people better understand aging and combat negative stereotypes about older adults.
2. We can change our own language and behavior. We can stop saying things like: “I’m having a senior moment,” and we can stop sending ageist birthday cards to our friends. Visit this website to learn about Anti-ageist Birthday Card Project: https://changingthenarrativeco.org/anti-ageist-birthday-cards/.
3. We can engage in intergenerational programs, such as mentoring and tutoring, even virtually. We can have intergenerational conversations. Research shows that intergenerational connection and education reduces ageism.
Douglas County, the state of Colorado, the United States and the world are getting older. When we come together to address ageism, we are doing so not only for ourselves, but for our children, grandchildren and generations to come.
Janine Vanderburg is director of Changing the Narrative, a campaign to change the way people think, talk and act about aging, older adults and ageism. To learn more, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or visit ChangingTheNarrativeCo.org.
This column is hosted by the Seniors’ Council of Douglas County. Please join us for our next virtual online presentation March 4 at 10 a.m. Janine Vanderburg will be our presenter and provide an overview about ways we can work together to address ageism. For more information, please visit www.MyDougCoSeniorLife.com, email DCSeniorLife@douglas.co.us or call 303-663-7681.
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