Do you know about ageism- yes no

Ageism – Damaging to Individuals and Society

Comment from the Older People’s Commissioner for Wales.

By Heléna Herklots CBE

Older People’s Commissioner for Wales Heléna Herklots CBE, says that recent appalling comments demonstrate why ageism must never be dismissed as harmless

A Yale professor was recently – and rightly – criticised for the appalling suggestion that the mass suicide or mandatory euthanasia of older people was the only solution to the ‘burden’ of an ageing population in Japan. The fact that it was seen as acceptable to make these comments, shows how little value is placed on our later lives.

This starkly demonstrates the extent to which ageism is still often seen as acceptable and dismissed as being harmless, despite a growing body of evidence and research demonstrating the damage that ageism and age discrimination causes to individuals and society.

This is explored in a recent report – Ageism: What’s the Harm?– published by the Centre for Ageing Better, which identifies three main types of ageism and explores the ways these manifest themselves.

Action For Elders Think Differently About Ageing strategy is leading the way toward a better later life and they support this forward thinking with their Balanced Lives Programmes.


What the report says

According to the report, the first type – institutionalised ageism– results in ageism being embedded in laws, rules, social norms, policies and practice. This is something we see within health services, with older people less likely to be offered certain treatment options regardless of the potential outcome, for example, and within employment practices, meaning older workers find themselves less likely to be employed or offered training opportunities.

The report also highlights interpersonal ageism, which occurs in the interactions between individuals. This can include patronising or infantilising older people, or making pejorative assumptions or comments about someone based upon their age.

The third type of ageism identified in the report is self-directed ageism, which occurs when a person internalises ageism and modifies their own thinking or behaviour due to repeated exposure to ageist attitudes and messages. Self-directed ageism can also lead people to believe they are ‘too old’ to progress in work or learn new skills, which may limit their ambitions and the opportunities they might pursue.

The wider damage caused by ageism

Ageism and age discrimination also harms society more widely, damaging social cohesion and creating intergenerational division, reinforcing inequality and limiting our productivity. When older people are excluded, we lose their knowledge, skills and experiences, leaving us poorer both economically and culturally.

Tackling these issues must be a priority and while there is growing recognition of the scale and impact of ageism and age discrimination, much greater awareness is needed throughout our public services and across society more generally. Ageism should never be dismissed as harmless and should be treated as seriously as other forms of discrimination.

The need for more research and more involvement

Furthermore, evidence and data relating to older people and their experiences needs to improve significantly. As highlighted previously, gaps in data collected relating to older people and their experiences can lead to assumptions that older people are not affected by an issue despite the opposite being the case. This can lead to older people essentially being rendered invisible to policy and decision-makers as they are not able to fully understand people’s needs and determine where resources and services need to be targeted.

Alongside this, older people must be involved in the design and development of policies and services in a meaningful way. Many older people are ‘experts by experience’ and ensuring their voices are heard will help to improve policy and practice and make our communities more age-friendly.

“As Commissioner I want to see a Wales where older people are valued, rights are upheld and no-one is left behind, and taking forward this kind of action to tackle ageism, which underpins many of the issues faced by older people, will play a crucial part in delivering this.

This is an edited version of a blog that appears on: https://olderpeople.wales and is reproduced with the permission of the office of the Older People’s Commissioner for Wales.


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