Ageism can be defined as discrimination and stereotyping based on an individual’s age. While younger people can face ageism, the term is typically refer to the prejudice experienced by the elderly purely based on how old they are.
Ageism can make many forms which can include but is not limited to:
• Negative attitudes towards aging and older people
• Discriminatory policies and practices, especially in the work place
• Overlooking and undervaluing valid social contributions of older people
• Negative assumptions and beliefs about the knowledge and skills of an elderly person
• Stereotypes that include the elderly being dependent, frail and/or generally incapable of basics tasks
Due to these situations and ideas, ageism can have a significantly negative impact on an individual’s mental, physical and cognitive health.
Mental Health: Ageism can lead to feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness and general devaluation which in turn can contribute to or worsen the development of anxiety and depression. This in conjunction with feelings of loneliness and isolation leaves the elderly without a support network and increases the risk of developing suicidal ideation.
Physical Health: Ageism can create physical symptoms for chronic stress which manifest into other health conditions eg. Diabetes. Ageism may also discourage the elderly from physical exercise and healthy eating due to feeling unsupported. When not treated with respect and dignity, ageism can also impact an individual’s willingness to seek medical treatment when needed which also impacts their physical health.
Cognitive Health: Ageism impacts cognitive health by creating self-doubt in an individual’s abilities due to their age, even if they are entirely capable of a task due to loss of confidence. A decline in cognitive health and function can impact memory and increase the risk of developing cognitive diseases like dementia.
Therefore, it is important to address ageism when it presents itself and instead promote more positive attitudes towards aging.