Society Tells Us The Elderly Don’t Matter. Don’t Believe It.
Ageism is unpleasantly rampant in our society. According to a Duke University study cited by the American Psychological Association, almost 80 percent of people over 60 have experienced some form of discrimination based on their age. Whether it be an ill-considered joke, a presumption about mental health, or something else, ageism is a reality for the vast majority of elderly Americans. The notion that the thoughts and feelings of elderly people are not worth considering is persistent in our culture. It can be hard to shake, but it’s important for everyone that we shake it.
The negative health consequences of ageist attitudes among the elderly.
The hardest part about the battle against ageism is that discriminatory attitudes can sway even those affected by them. When surrounded by negative reinforcement, it can be all too easy to value oneself less based on artificial factors like age. In fact, ageism’s sewing of self-doubt among the elderly community could well be its most pernicious effect. According to this article from CNN, those who are able to cast off the shackles of cultural expectations for aging actually live longer. Our attitudes are literally killing us. According to the study cited in the story, “perception of aging [influences] longevity even more than blood pressure, cholesterol, body mass index, or a person’s tendency to exercise.”
How to fight back
Our culture is so skeptical of age, it can be hard to see the light. The last over-60 president the voters of the United States elected was George Herbert Walker Bush in 1988. Most of our celebrities are under 50. It is not ingrained in western culture to learn from the wisdom of the aged. Dr. Sharon Horesh Bergquist, the author of the CNN story linked above, makes a good point when she writes, “Western cultural and religious roots of ageism are deeply entrenched in the Protestant work ethic and the American Dream, both of which value youth by defining personal worth in terms of active engagement in work.” Once you are of a certain age, the economy, and thus the culture, hasn’t much use for you.
But, as Bergquist points out, western society is strange in this way. Other cultures value the elderly. Although globalization may be changing this custom, Chinese families traditionally care for elderly relatives. Koreans celebrate old age through “hwangap” celebrations. “Old” doesn’t have to be a dirty word. If you don’t treat it like one, chances are you will be a lot happier with yourself and those around you.
Disclaimer: This content is for informational purposes only and it is not meant to be relied on as medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Consult your physician before starting any exercise or dietary program, or taking any other action respecting your health. In case of a medical emergency, call 911.