Are you guilty of unfairly writing off older people? Or perhaps you’ve been on the receiving end of ageist comments or attitudes?
There are lots of negative stereotypes associated with ageing and older people. Many words and phrases used to describe or shoot down older people, such as “OK boomer”, “over the hill”, “old bat” and even “pensioner” conjure up images of being out of touch, frail, unhealthy, and slow.
Ageism is everywhere in society, however, times are changing. Many older people are now living longer, are healthier and are more active and productive than previous generations ever were.
Research has found that holding negative age-related stereotypes earlier in life can lead to worse health outcomes. For example, if you believe that decline is inevitable, it may mean you'll be less likely to do what’s good for your health, such as exercising and taking medication.
Shaking off negative stereotypes about ageing and older people that are untrue and biased can be challenging, but there are things you can do to help re-frame ageing in a positive light.
1. Stop using negative words
Think about the kind of words you use to describe older people. If you catch yourself using a word with negative connotations, then stop and try to come up with an alternative. Is it even necessary to mention a person’s age?
2. Focus on the positives
Like the rest of the world, New Zealand’s population is ageing. By 2036, it’s predicted around one in 4.5 New Zealanders will be over 65 (that’s a 77% increase on 2016). Think about the good things that older people bring to the table such as wisdom, different perspectives, and a lifetime of experience to draw on.
3. Challenge other people’s words/attitudes
If you hear yourself or other older people being described in a negative way due to age, then call that person out on it. Similarly, if you are spoken to in a condescending way or patronised due to your age, then stand up for yourself.
4. Question portrayals in the media
How are older people portrayed in the media, advertisements, movies, TV shows and books? Are they portrayed in a negative or positive light? Do they even have major roles?
5. Spend time with older people
There is no better way to reduce your own negative stereotypes about a group of people than to actually spend time with them. If you’re younger, spend time with older relatives, get involved with activities or social situations that are inter-generational, or take some time to have a conversation with someone who is older.