Ageism permeates our society today. Unlike all other prejudices, ageism is a prejudice that affects all of us. Why is it then that ageism is so poorly understood, documented and addressed? Like all kinds of negative “–isms”, ageism has its consequences. It may negatively influence how we live the last third of our lives and even impact life expectancy. When an ageing population is often disadvantaged regarding employment, social services benefits and economic stability, how can we expect a population NOT to dread old age?
There is an urgent need to improve the culture and general mindset about ageing. There has to be a shift from “twilight years” to “best years of our lives”, because honestly with proper planning and a change in attitudes toward it, people can create a society that is much kinder to older people. In this respect, New Zealand has been making huge strides regarding its government supporting active ageing. In 2001, the government of New Zealand committed to positive ageing by enacting the New Zealand Positive Ageing Strategy. A strategy that aims to value the importance of lifelong good health and well-being, allow skilled older individuals to continue to contribute to the workforce and to ensure that seniors can continue to be active participants in society for as long as they can and want to.
Changing our Minds about Ageing
So how exactly can we follow in New Zealand’s footsteps and improve the culture of ageing? First and foremost, we must modify the mindset that surrounds ageing. Well-meaning jokes about signs of ageing typically used to insinuate that ageing automatically cause negative things like pain in the body or forgetfulness can be funny but NOT helpful to how we as a society perceive ageing. Most people have a negative perception of ageing. In mainstream media alone, ads are often focused on the young making the young out to be successful, driven, and having the time of their lives. On the other hand, old people are often portrayed in the media as being unproductive, grumpy, kooky or an odd sitcom like the collection of all three. To improve the culture of ageing, we must ditch these preconceived notions about ageing. We must start showing ageing people on TV who are neither deathly sick nor unproductive.
Increasing Life Expectancy and Quality through Better Healthcare
Huge advances in medicine and technology have made it more possible than ever for people to live long and healthy lives. These provisions, however, are often not as accessible to older people as it should be. Older people, after they have been retired from their companies have to withdraw benefits such as dental and hospital care during a time in their lives where they might need it the most. If only there were more education regarding proper preparation of to sustain you through old age, older citizens could be having high-quality lives instead of just ageing in pain.
Overcoming Negative Stereotypes
We briefly touched with stereotypes against older people above but, even more, damaging stereotypes exist. Stereotypes, where older people are always tired or are less sharp than their grandkids for examples, are stereotypes that often prevent companies, big and small, from giving older people chances to work and be productive. This is unfortunate because being productive and being in a constant state of learning has been highly linked to holding back the setting in of dementia as well as another disease.
Age Diversity in the Office
There should be more diversity in the workplace. More women, more races, more cultural background and yes more generations under one roof. It doesn’t make sense to waste the years of experience these people have just because they have now suddenly started the natural journey of ageing (heck, we’re all ageing!) Older people in their 50s and above, often feel that they cannot keep up in an environment run by people a solid two generations younger than they are. This is where business owners and HR departments should step in to bring older people’s confidence back. The right training and work environment can make older employees part of the team and more ready to learn things. Just because a person has an abundance of wrinkles and fines lines, it doesn’t mean that they cannot derive self-confidence and fulfilment from a healthy working environment.
— Zigverve.com (@zigverve) May 8, 2016
Taking Positive Strides to Preparing for Old Age
The only way to break the stereotype of the ailing old man or lady, we must all try our best to continue to be productive even in our old age. The only way to do it is to prepare for old age ourselves. Taking care of our health so that we can continue to be physically productive is one step. Another step is to prepare for retirement financially making sure that no matter what the tide brings, you can take care of your health without having to rely on anybody. Not your company, not your insurance company and especially not your children.