We speak of age discrimination or ageism when you are discriminated because:
- You are (or are not) a certain age or in a certain age group
- Someone thinks you are (or are not) a specific age or age group. This is known as discrimination by perception
- You are connected to someone of a specific age or age group. This is known as discrimination by association
Different types of age discrimination:
- Direct discrimination: This happens when you are treated differently, while in the same circumstance as someone else, based on your age. This discrimination is only allowed when it can be proven that there is a good reason for it.
- Indirect discrimination: when an organization has a particular policy or way of working that applies to everyone but sets people of a certain age or within a certain age group at a disadvantage. This is only allowed when there is a good reason to use this policy or way of working
- Harassment: when someone makes you feel humiliated, offended or degraded because of your age.
- Victimisation: When y
ou are treated badly because of making a complaint of age discrimination or because you are supporting someone who has made a claim.
Common stereotypes used for seniors
There are some common stereotypes used for seniors that can often be seen as ageism since these are expected to be true because of their age:
- Can’t remember things.
- Cannot see or hear well.
- Must be physically frail or weak.
- Are inflexible and stubborn.
- Cannot learn new things.
- Must be interested in retiring.
- Must not be capable of using technology.
Ageism in the workplace
Discrimination based on age is a growing problem that goes in line with an aging population. In some parts of the world, the older population is not encouraged to take part in the workforce. Because of rapid changes in demand in almost every sector, the demand for younger workers with more up to date skills is high. The demand for older people, who might not have these capabilities and are often more expensive, is low; Even though they are highly available. Some statistics about ageism in the workplace:
- Ageism starts at an age of 50 years old.
- The majority of people who have experienced or seen ageism believe it is common to happen.
- There is a preference for a very young boss over an older boss.
- Ageism is the most widely experienced form of discrimination in Europe.
- Unemployment amongst elderly is higher and decreasing less rapidly than it is amongst younger workers.
- More than half of European citizens believe that older people contribute very little to society.
An often seen cause of ageism in the workplace is that employers believe that older adults do not have the technical knowledge that youngsters have. What the youth is often missing is the willingness for extra education and the many years of experience that older adults do have.
A big issue in ageism in the workplace is that seniors are more often willing and even motivated to keep working, sometimes even after their official retirement age. Many people value their job and get satisfaction from it. But especially for these older adults, it is very difficult to find a job after they have lost a previous job.
Age discrimination in senior care
Elderly make up for the biggest healthcare users, so making sure they get proper treatment instead of discriminating them because of their age will contribute to delivering quality healthcare.
Something that very often happens in the care of the elderly population is infantilism. This means that the patient is often treated as if they are a child. This is mainly noticeable in the way the care provider talks to the senior. Often speaking with a higher voice and very loud or with overly clear articulation is what the care provider does. It is a way of psychological abuse that is often overlooked. Although often this way of communication towards elderly is unintentional, it is a form of agism that is not well received by the seniors. Moreover, it often happens that the care provider does not talk to the patient but to an accompanying family member, sometimes as if the patient is not even there. Seniors might see a doctor for physical treatment while their mind is fully in order and they would like to be treated with respect and as an adult.
This miscommunication often leads to under treatment. Under treatment means that when seniors have certain complaints, it is often said this is due to aging. No further examination is executed while a serious illness might be developing. On the other hand, overtreatment also happens amongst elderly patients. This means that with certain complaints, professionals draw a conclusion about diagnoses based on the age of the patient. This might cause the patient to be in distress about their health while there is no apparent reason.
What to do about age discrimination
The first step towards less age discrimination is to be more accepting of aging. This will positively affect yourself and others around you. It is important to speak up when you experience ageism. If you notice ageism, speak up and when you are a victim of ageism in the workplace, know that you have certain rights that you can exercise. If you cannot fight it yourself, try to find someone who is willing to help.
Still, the most important change to be made is the perception of aging. Even older adults often believe that ageism is just part of becoming older. It would benefit society to see elderly as valuable assets instead of a burden for society.
To decrease ageism in healthcare it is important to see older seniors as a heterogeneous group. Such as all other age groups, all individuals have different characteristics and the older adults should not be put into one group because of their age only. Some are 80 and are still strong and physically active, but others might be just 70 and feel weaker and experience more illnesses due to which they will need more intensive care.
It is also important to create a more accepting attitude towards aging. Aging is a normal process of life and it does not necessarily mean that everyone who ages (eventually everyone will) is going to experience many health issues. This positive attitude can be created by first of all including older adults more in society. To not see them as a separated group but make a connection to the rest of society can lead to a more accepting and understood attitude towards them.