We can argue about how to address older people. Should we use outdated words like ‘elderly’ or replace ‘old age’ with ‘later life? The problem is actually a much wider one and goes to the very heart of our existence. Profound? Maybe, or maybe not, but put simply, ageism is about how we see ourselves. We wrongly perceive older people as something other than ourselves, but older people are in fact our future selves.
Most of what we know about ageing is wrong
Ashton Applewhite, activist and author of a brilliantly provocative, thoughtful new book This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageing says: “Most of what we think we know about ageing is wrong.”
Ashton pulls no punches when she says we are scared of growing old due to ignorance or swayed by powerful commercial and political interests that act against our own.
Ashton stresses the importance of challenging negative ageist stereotypes. In the recent interview in the i Newspaper, she asks us to battle against ageism with the same vigour we would fight sexism and racism. She says ageism makes workplaces undiverse and needlessly pits the young against the old. Ashton has a point; research has found that nearly 75% of UK workers feel age discrimination is common in the workplace.
There’s growing scientific evidence that ageism can actually harm our bodies and brains. A recent report by the Global Council on Brain Health found that positive mental wellbeing is related to better brain health among older adults, and can reduce cognitive decline in later life. The World Health Organisation is currently developing a campaign to extend not just lifespan but something they term our ‘healthspan’ – the length of the healthy part of our lives.
Ashton Applewhite is at the forefront of a new movement that questions the ageing process and our attitudes to later life. She’s addressed the United Nations on older person issues. Her popular blog, the wonderfully titled ‘Yo, Is This Ageist?’ continues the fight against ageism. It’s no accident Ashton calls her new book a ‘Manifesto’ – as this is a timely wake-up call for social change.
It really is time to think differently about ageing.
As Ashton puts it: “…a better world in which to grow old is a better place for everyone.”,/p>
This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageing is out now, published by Melville House UK.