Being old in today’s society is a negative stereotype that reinforces itself as we grow older. What then? It can become a self-stereotype with dangerous consequences. Studies by Becca Levy, Yale professor of epidemiology and psychology, says we don’t fight back or build up defenses and these negative beliefs can diminish our will to live and take years off our lives. Stereotyping stops us from knowing the person behind the assumption. This explains why some people shout at the elderly even if there’s no hearing problem, or when adult children take over the decision-making of a still-capable parent. Being called a crazy old lady doesn’t help the relationship either. When age is the defining feature, our personality, beliefs and individuality are replaced with stereotypes of incompetence, debilitation and dependency. This leads to one of the most damaging of the discriminating behaviors of ageism: treating older adults like children. Calling older adults “sweetie” or “honey” can be just as cruel, and someone using child-like vocabulary to an older person can be humiliating. Most people will say that using endearing words conveys a sense of caring or nurturing and almost everyone agrees this behavior isn’t intended to hurt anyone. That doesn’t take away the sting when it happens. Having a doctor, banker or any person in authority speaking about you or your concerns to your adult child or someone else when you are present, without permission or necessity, is a great insult. The older person may be thinking: “I am an intelligent woman, an adult. Being old has not taken away my decision-making or capability.” Using a cane or a walker has not damaged the brain. Continuing research by Levy found that positive age stereotypes led to stronger self-perceptions, which, in turn, improved physical function. Yes, negative bias and ageism does exist in our society but today there is an understanding of the damage of negative aging views. That is a start. For detailed information go to: www.nextavenue.org – 2016 Influencers in Aging, October, 2016.
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