If you’ve ever been a parent, you’ve probably said it: “you’re too old for that.” It’s a common phrase for parents to say aloud. Isn’t a child too old to throw a temper tantrum, or too old to commit misbehaviors usually reserved for toddlers? Unfortunately, this phrase is often used on older people, too. It reflects the current infantilization of the elderly in our society.
As you age, it seems there’s an endless list of things that you’re ‘too old’ for. Too old to be in the workforce, as you get passed over for younger and less skilled candidates. Too old to live independently, even though you have no health issues or past record of being unsafe to live by yourself. Too old to drive, which means you’re forced to beg rides from family and friends. Too old to learn new tricks, which means you’re isolated from all the exciting new innovations in the technology world.
With this in mind, it’s no wonder that ageism is hitting hard. It’s causing social isolationism and physical health crises that could be averted. We live in a socially progressive age, where we’re slowly tackling each -ism. Racism, sexism … they’re all being tackled by a younger generation eager to make a difference and create a level playing field for everyone. However, ageism is often shunted aside. Sometimes it’s even dismissed as ‘fake’. However, as a society, we constantly idealize youth.
According to the dictionary, ageism is described as “prejudice or discrimination on the grounds of a person’s age.”
This type of prejudice is everywhere. We’ve created a shrine to youth, as a society. Consequently, we’ve reached the point where typical markers of old age, such as wrinkled skin and grey hair, are greeted with horror. Women, in particular, spend thousands of dollars to keep themselves from aging.
Have you ever watched a sitcom? Comedy relies on universal experiences, more or less. How many comedic moments are based on old people? It’s possible that these ‘jokes’ didn’t stand out when you were young, but they certainly do now. In media, age is presented as the equivalent of infancy. Doddering old men, who commit one social faux pas after another, while subjecting everyone to endless boring stories … does that sound familiar to you? If it does, then you’re conscious of the impact of ageism in today’s culture.
Unfortunately, this impact goes beyond inaccurate and hurtful jokes. It goes beyond a false and widely represented view of aging that has conquered media. Ageism will kill you. There are two sides to this coin. There’s the presentation of the elderly’s health in the media. Barely able to navigate a staircase without falling to their death, these fictional old people are practically helpless. Add to that the fact that disorders and typical aging are often confused. For instance, dementia is a tragic disorder. However, many people assume that’s a sign of typical aging—even when it isn’t!
However, ageism is a sucker punch to the health of many older adults. For starters, how are you supposed to be positive about aging when no one else is? If you tune into modern media, aging is the unforgivable crime that you can’t help committing. Approaching aging with a positive attitude can seem impossible. Even if that’s the case, it’s crucial. Research proves that elderly adults harboring negative attitudes about aging have a shorter lifespan. This contrasts with those who have a positive attitude about getting older. Studies show that adults with a positive mindset toward age will live 7.5 years longer.
Ageism has also been shown to negatively impact productivity levels and cardiovascular health. With so many American adults dying of heart disease, it’s easy to see why this statistic is of great concern.
Another problem is that negative attitudes can become self-fulfilling. After all, if you believe something for long enough, it will eventually come true. Social attitudes about ageism are “promoting in older people stereotypes of social isolation, physical and cognitive decline, lack of physical activity and economic burden.”
What about vulnerability? Loneliness often results in desperation. When you're desperate, your guard goes down. Things you wouldn't do become normal to alleviate desperation. This is especially true when you're isolated and trying to make connections. Scammers know this, too. If someone you didn't know called on the phone, you might answer. Having conversations and making connections is a human need, after all. Unfortunately, scammers take advantage of this. By pressuring you to give up sensitive information, or tricking you into believing them, they can scam you. This results in savings accounts being wiped clean, identity theft, and more.
All these factors have a major impact on ageism flourishing in our society. However, all of these -isms come with consequences. Ageism is no different. It has served to grow an increasingly wide chasm between generations. Of course, there have always been generational gaps. For instance, teenagers coming of age in the 1960s were the children of men and women who served overseas in World War II.
Never before, though, have our methods of communication changed so wildly and inaccessibly. The telephone, the telegraph, sending letters across the Atlantic Ocean or the continent with speed—all these inventions were easy to use. They were birthed by the realization that not everyone knew how to adopt new technology immediately. Today, there is a gap that can render communication between generations nearly impossible.
Think about how your grandchild communicates with their friends. If they want to meet someone for coffee, they send off a quick text message. If they want to send a happy birthday wish, they tag someone on Facebook and write a heartfelt message there. If they want to share photographs to commemorate a fun time or share memories, they do it on Instagram. How are you supposed to keep up with the lives of tech-savvy friends and family? If you just have a landline phone, how are you supposed to keep up? It seems that few people really answer their phones anymore. If you call, you’re often greeted with voicemail. Or someone tries to text you back, rather than just answering.
It’s not your fault that this chasm keeps growing. How are you supposed to keep up with technology that you weren’t born with, that you weren’t taught to use? Technology instruction is many things in this day and age, but user-friendly usually isn’t one of them. Even if you’re relatively knowledgeable, it’s hard to keep up with people these days.
An elderly person, sitting alone in their home with a landline phone that never rings, is the ultimate picture of the consequences that ageism brings. The true consequence of ageism is social isolationism.
Fortunately, there’s a solution to ageism. If someone says ‘you’re too old for that’, they’re wrong! If you’re willing, you can learn to combat it at any age. The best way to do this is to communicate via the same platforms, in the same ways, that the kids do. It’s not as hard as it looks! Getting a personal technology trainer with an empathetic approach is a great start to genuinely connecting with family and friends again. You’ll be back in touch before you know it.
Even though ageism and the result, social isolationism, is a societal problem, you can still combat it individually. By taking advantage of the tools and resources provided for you, you can easily connect with family and friends again. Remember when you could pick up your landline, ring a friend, and be almost certain they’d pick up and respond? You can have a similar experience today, just with modern technology!
Brenoff, Ann. (September, 2018). 5 Ageist Stereotypes That Really Need To Go Away Already. Huffington Post. Retrieved October, 2019 from https://www.huffpost.com/entry/5-ageist-stereotypes-that-should-end_n_5b19a66be4b09d7a3d70790b
Snedeker, L. (January/February, 2017). Aging and Isolation: Causes and Impacts. Social Work Today. Retrieved October, 2019 from https://www.socialworktoday.com/archive/011917p24.shtml
World Health Organization. (October, 2019). Ageism. Retrieved October, 2019 from https://www.who.int/ageing/features/faq-ageism/en/