Minute for Affirm

Today, there are around 600 million persons aged 60 and over worldwide.  The number is expected to double by 2025, and will reach two billion by 2050.  In order to recognize the important contributions that older people make to our world, while raising awareness towards issues of ageing, the United Nations designated October 1 as the International Day of Older Persons.  The World Health Organization works together with its partners to commemorate the day and raise awareness for the continuing challenges facing older people.

One of the challenges facing older people are some of the myths and misconceptions that circulate in society regarding older people.  I am going to ask you a few questions, and I would like you to answer (to yourself only) whether the statement is true or false.  I’ll start with an easy one.

1) All old people are the same.
False – older age is characterized by great diversity – in interests, mental and physical abilities, care needs, etc.  There is more variety among older people than among any other age group.

2) Most people, as they get older, do not develop dementia.
True  – only 6-8% of people over age 65 have dementia and only 1/3 of those over age 85 have some dementia symptoms.

3) Forgetfulness is likely to indicate the onset of dementia.
False – As you may have read in Tuesday’s Times and Transcript, memory loss can be caused by medications, medical conditions, depression, low Vitamin B12 levels, an underactive thyroid, lack of deep sleep, anxiety, etc.  A thorough check up is needed to determine the exact cause.

4) As people age, their ability to learn often stops.
False – Learning patterns may change and speed of learning may diminish, but the basic capacity to learn is retained.

5) Very few older people use new technologies, such as the computer and internet.
False – Apparently over 41% of those 65+ use the internet.

6) Most older people are able to carry out their normal activities of daily living.
True – About 80% of older adults are healthy enough to carry out their normal activities.

7) Watching one’s diet or exercising is a waste of time for older adults.
False – At all ages, eating healthy food and getting exercise are the two basic components to healthy ageing.

For older people, ageism is an everyday challenge.  Overlooked for employment, restricted from social services, blamed for health-care costs, stereotyped in the media, ageism marginalizes and excludes older people in their communities, at the very time of life where enjoyment could be paramount.

Ageism is everywhere, yet is the most socially normalized of any prejudice.  It begins when the media portrays older adults as “senile” and “doddering” on television; when newspaper reports add the label “elderly”.  I could continue but I only have a minute.

But even more concerning is that older people who internalize ageist attitudes die sooner.  Research reveals that older people who have negative attitudes toward aging live 7.5 years shorter than those with positive attitudes, and they have poorer recovery from disability and disease.  Older people who feel they are a burden may also perceive their lives to be less valuable, putting them at risk of depression and social isolation.

The theme of the International Day of Older Persons for 2016 is Take a Stand Against Ageism.   What are your views regarding older people and how are they reflected in what you say and do?