According to the World Health Organization Ageism “is the stereotyping and discrimination of individuals and groups on the basis of age”.  It can take many forms such as “prejudicial attitudes, discriminatory practices, and institutional practices & policies”.

“Research suggests that ageism may now be even more pervasive than sexism and racism.”

Ageism is accompanied by negative attitudes towards older adults.  These negative attitudes are present even in the institutions where many older adults spend their last years and days.  Are these attitudes partly responsible for quality of care issues and in today’s Covid-19 environment the spread of the disease in Personal Care Homes?  Do these attitudes effect wages, recruitment of professionals and the overall perceived status of working in these facilities?

These negative attitudes result from distortions resulting, for example, from media coverage of physical issues like dementia, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.  There is not sufficient coverage to balance people’s views and understanding of aging.   Some of the scientific understanding of aging are included in this website as are short biographies of people who don’t fit the stereotype.

A 2016 report by the Sheridan College Centre for Elder Research and Revera concluded that Ageism is the most tolerated form of social prejudice in Canada.  Further, assuming that we know what seniors want is robbing them of their independence. Thomas Wellner, President and CEO of Revera, is quoted: “Today, our society tends to view aging as a slow period of decline.  In reality, it is another stage of our lives that can be rich with learning, opportunity, and tremendous happiness”.

The Frameworks Institute has published studies on how various components of our society view aging.  These were published in 2015 and 2016.  The first study compares the public with the expert view of the aging while the second compares how the media and advocacy groups frame their communications about aging.  For example, the public has two views of aging.  Briefly they are self-sufficient, active, socially active vs deterioration, dependent, social isolation and digital incompetence.  Experts view aging as a part of the normal life course leading to changes in physical abilities and more.  This process varies from person to person due to experiential and genetic differences over a lifetime.

The Covid 19 Pandemic has highlighted many aspects of Ageism. Apparently the Lieutenant-Governor of Texas suggested that seniors should sacrifice their lives “in order for the economy to continue functioning.”  Little is published about the victims of this virus except for age, existing conditions, and what outbreak the individual has been linked to.  I think it can be said that the reaction of the public to tragic losses is greatly influenced by the age of the victims.  “Oh well, he had a long life”.  Also, the state of most longterm care facilities has been discovered by all those watching the daily Covid 19 reports.  The state of governance and funding of many of these “homes” has raised red flags and questioned how much the elderly are valued by those responsible for their care.

Michelle Porter, Executive Director of the Centre on Aging at the University of Manitoba said in a Free Press article:  “Every death from Covid-19 is premature”.  In the same Free Press article Dr. Porter says “we know that any individual can make an impact or contribution in any given year of their life.”

References Consulted:
  1. Frequently Asked Questions about Ageism, World Health Organization
  2. How ageism is Robbing Seniors of their Independence, Sandra MacGregor, 2016.
  3. Gauging Aging: Mapping the Gaps between Expert and Public Understanding of Aging in America, Lindland, Ford, Haydon and Kendall-Taylor, 2015.
  4. Ageing, Agency, and Attribution of Responsibility: shifting public discourse about older adults, Moira O’Neil, Abigail Haydon, Frameworks Instiute.
  5. “Pandemic Highlights Widespread Societal Ageism”, Ben Waldman, Winnipeg Free Press, Wednesday, October 28, 2020, page C1.