Recently I have been confronted with ageism in the medical world when a family member who is over the age of 65 was left with severe disabilities after a brain trauma.
Although the care good in the hospital, the pressure put on us to put our loved one into a rest home, instead of helping us to care for them in the home was huge.
She was high level care and needed 24/7 oversight but we fought hard to get the services that are available if you have the perseverance to fight for them and have managed very, very well. If we had given in to the immense pressure, she would never be as well as she is now, have the wonderful quality of life she does and the feeling of love and security that comes from being ensconced in your own family home.
This is not an indictment of rest homes. They do a wonderful job, but rather it's an attitude in the system, the default option, the easy way out, that worries me. I have talked to many older people in similar situations to ours and a number of them have had similar experiences, feeling pressured into putting their loved one in homes against their wishes. Being told you wont cope, you will fail, it will end in crisis and no doubt the professionals concerned have seen this happen, however families who want the chance should be given full support. Being institutionalised before it's absolutely necessary is not ideal. It is to lose control over your own or your loved ones lives.
Ageism is known to be problem in the workplace too and there are laws in place which protect, albeit inadequately, older people from this.
Older people from 45 years old and up will often be seen as being too senior to be taken on (often younger bosses don’t want to be in charge of older colleagues), perhaps seen as not up with technology or able to adapt to technology fast enough, not fresh and dynamic and full of energy as younger colleagues might be and mostly these attitudes are inaccurate, generalisations and discount the value of their experience.
Women especially, face ageism in relation to their beauty, their sexual attractiveness, their usefulness. Once a woman reaches a certain age she seems to become invisible and no longer of value. This sometime subconcious attitude greatly effects so many women who feel the pressure of ageing the fear of being devalued as ones looks change. Woman are still too often judged on their physical appearances first rather than solely on their abilities and experience.
Our older citizens, the ones who have built our country to what it is today, who have paid their taxes diligently for decades and worked hard, should they be tossed aside, sidelined because they are no longer as productive as earlier.
A civilised culture is, in my opinion, measured on how it treats its’ vulnerable citizens. How are we faring on that score?
Are we treating our elders as we should? Are they integrated into the community as much as possible. Older people need young ones and young ones need older people. Just one idea I had would be for each rest home to adopt a kindergarten and vice versa, where the two groups could meet weekly or fortnightly to interact over morning tea or lunch. Such interactions would benefit everyone. What a wonderful concept, old and young playing and interacting together. Practical? Probably not but maybe someone out there will run with it or perhaps it's already happening in fact I am sure it is happening.
In this enlightened day, where we aren’t supposed to judge by colour, religion or sex, where most of us pride ourselves on our open minded educated attitudes why are we still blatantly allowing and perpetuating ageism.
This is especially baffling when I consider that most of us, if we are lucky enough to live long, will be at some stage be in this sidelined age group before we die. Do you want to be marginalised?
Life is short and while we are on this earth let's treat each other with respect regardless of age.
Lets stop and think before we propagate any form of ageism in our own thinking or indeed through institutionalised ageism. After all, it will affect you too at some stage.