Let’s Help Each Other Overcome Ageism

~ Carol Vartuli

Many younger people do not think about the subtler signs of ageism. After all, Grandma is tiny, and she is cute. But when a grocery clerk refers to her as “young lady,” it is disrespectful. Likewise, when a younger man uses a parental voice and addresses an 80- year-old as “buddy,” it is demeaning.

Other ageist behaviors include speaking loudly, enunciating slowly, and using child-level vocabulary, on the assumption that older people don’t hear or understand. Another destructive sign of ageism is the when doctors or other professionals speak directly to the senior’s adult children, instead of to the patient/client.

Avoid Making Assumptions

Some older adults do suffer cognitive impairment, but plenty of 85 and 90-year-olds reason quite clearly. To simply assume they don’t is ageism.  And it’s hurtful.

Much research shows that we develop negative, age-related stereotypes when we are young. Then, like karma, the stereotypes will become our own reality.

Negative stereotypes (old people are senile) are not just hurtful. They tend to foretell worse physical functioning decades later. On the other hand, positive stereotypes  (old people are wise) tend to foster more positive physical function.

We can benefit ourselves, and future generations, by becoming aware of ageism. Here are some ways to start combatting it with our own loved ones.

Don’t provide unsolicited help

Presume your parent is capable, even when his slow steps make you itch with father with walker and son talking about ageismimpatience. Remember how you instilled confidence when your baby was learning to walk? Remember that your parent did the same for you.

If your Mother uses a walker, but wants to make her way around the supermarket, don’t run ahead, gathering her groceries in your cart.

Give your Dad some extra moments to get into the car. Resist the urge to immediately ease him into the seat.  Assume he’s able—until he indicates otherwise.

Don’t impose your own standards of ‘living’

Be sensitive to your parent or grandparent’s living preferences. They may not keep the furniture as dust free as you would, and there might be clutter on the kitchen counter. If it doesn’t pose a danger, let it be.

Let your father be in charge of his own environment, unless he has cognitive impairment that makes it unsafe. Consider that Aunt Flo’s frayed rocking chair envelops her in memories more precious than a freshly upholstered one would.

Don’t push your loved one to pursue a new activity because you think it ‘would be good’ for her. If she shows interest in your suggestion, offer to help with the logistics, but let her decide.

Listen … really listen

Resist the urge to counter his “In my day…” with an impatient “It’s different today.” It’s likely your parent has accumulated wisdom greater than yours, even if you’re the ripe age of 60-something.
Be ready to seize on nuggets when they trickle out. Ask questions to continue the conversation. You might be surprised at what you learn.


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