Stereotyping older people as fragile, unproductive and a burden on society comes from ignorance. It is ageism and, I believe, is as offensive as sexism and racism. No one has control over their gender or ethnicity or indeed the ageing process. Male or female, black or white, we all get older, or die trying.
The term AGEISM is a fairly modern one, coined by Robert Neil Butler in 1969, who described ageism as “prejudicial attitudes towards older people, old age and the ageing process; discriminatory practices against older people and institutional practices and policies that perpetuate stereotypes about older people”. It is rife in Australia according to a research paper by Deakin University, commissioned by Benetas, an aged care organization in Victoria, Aust. (www.agedcareinsite.com.au). Pop star Madonna, now aged 54 also accuses society of being ageist and says, “Once you reach a certain age you’re not allowed to be adventurous, you’re not allowed to be sexual.” (CareFair.com).
People are retired from productive work when they reach their sixties, this is ageism. Some do choose to retire especially if the physical work they do is becoming burdensome. However, many people wish to continue to work and if retired prematurely will seek work elsewhere. Others may retire in order to pursue their dream job, travel or a creative endeavour. Musicians, artists, writers and actors don’t seem to retire at all, and often work until their death. Take for instance composers Phillip Glass, aged 75, who maintains a grueling schedule of performances, artist Margaret Olley painted until her death at aged 88. Writers Patrick White and Elizabeth Jolley continued to write well into their later years. Actors Maggie Smith and Dame Judy Dench who are both aged 77, are still starring in movies. HRH Queen Elizabeth who at age 86 is still performing her royal duties and of course there is Dame Elizabeth Murdock, still doing her philanthropic work at age 103. Each one of these celebrities work and gives or has given pleasure to others in their latter years.
There are many non-celebrity older people still contributing to society. They have honed their special skills and are now the experts in their field, they have learned the lesson of life and now have the time and willingness to share their skill and knowledge with others. They have become the givers not the takers as the term ageism suggests. The Australian Government seems to support this view stating that “positive ageing is valuable, that a happy and healthy ageing population can contribute knowledge, experience and skills to the community and the workforce. They also add that this in turn places less demand on social and health services and provides positive role models for younger people”.(NSW Government, Family & Community Services, Ageing, Disability & Home Care). Forgive my skepticism but is the phrase “places less demand on social and health services” the reason for their positive ageing initiatives? It is a pity that the value of healthy older people is seen as a financial one, when it’s much more than that. In this young throw-away society older people are the valuable antiques.
The belief that all older people are a drain on the health system is ageism. Not all older people over the age of 60 are chronically ill. Most are fit and in good health. Yes, some older people do have bodies that need a lot of maintenance, but like anything old and valuable this is a given. Take a vintage car, a historic home, a painting from and old master, all require constant care and restoration, so why are older people any different?
It is my hope that older people can rise above the tag of ageism and by the example of our fruitful lives, and finally remove ageist beliefs from societal attitudes and make ageism a redundant word. It’s up to us – there are many, many of us, we are a powerful force, let’s show our strength!
Catch you later, Maureen