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We can grow old gracefully

Have you ever had the experience of being overlooked while waiting to be served and felt it was because someone younger had caught the eye of the person behind the counter? Has anyone ever asked you “How are we today?” and you felt that you were being treated as a child, addressed in what is known as Elderspeak?

If so, then you have experienced ageism.

The term was first coined in 1968 by Robert Butler, a world-renowned American gerontologist, and it refers to a basic denial of older people’s human rights. Dr. Butler founded the International Longevity Centre in 1990. He dedicated his life’s work to advocating for the rights and needs of older persons.

A new report released on 14 September this year by the Australian Human Rights Commission has found that 90% of Australians agree that ageism exists in Australia and that it is a problem. The report, “What’s age got to do with it? A snapshot of ageism across Australia, was authored by Dr Kay Patterson AO, the Age Discrimination Commissioner.

The Report found that ageism is arguably the least understood form of prejudice and discrimination and is more widespread than racism and sexism. Over 62% of older Australians are likely to experience ageism as being “helped” without being asked. It is also experienced as condescension, being patronised, not taken seriously, made fun of. In fact, making jokes about age tends to be more socially acceptable than joking about race.

Ageism stereotypes older persons. The Report identifies some of these stereotypes, attitudes and beliefs.

It is important to remember that age is a fact of life whereas ageism is an attitude. There is growing awareness of the problem and one solution gaining interest is the value of intergenerational relationships.

The chains of relationships between aging parents, adult children and grandchildren are known as intergenerational relationships. Aging adults are living longer, healthier lives these days, making interaction among generations more important than ever. The importance of intergenerational relationships was highlighted by the ABC in the series, The Old People’s Home for 4 Year Olds, featuring a unique social experiment that brought together elderly people in a retirement community with a group of 4-year-olds.

So what can we older people do about ageism? We can begin with self respect. We can cherish our families and friendships, be proud of our achievements. We have our memories, hopes and dreams. We can take an interest in the world around us. We can do very basic things such as eating well, getting enough sleep, exercising, even if it is very simple and done from the security of an armchair. We can grow old gracefully.

Sr. Anne Henson

Marian Grove Resident

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