Can we change these common stereotypes about older persons?
We are getting older- An indisputable fact that spans around the world, as people live longer. According to statistics from the WHO, the proportion of the world's population over 60 years will nearly double between 2015 and 2050.
The International Day of Older Persons, celebrated on October 1 is a worldwide event that hopes to help people cope with the care and nurturing required by an aging loved one. The UN General Assembly named October 1 to recognize the needs of the international aging population. The theme of this year`s commemoration, “Digital Equity for All Ages” is so apt as it brings awareness of the importance of digital inclusion of older persons. We are moving into the world of digitalization, and it is imperative for the elderly to be digitally connected, as more and more everyday services move online.
Older persons continue to make a huge impact as caretakers, community builders, experts, professionals and individuals with experience and skills to share. More elderlies have started working later in their lives, seeking purpose to their lives in their work. They have a passion for learning new things, and are willing to share their experiences.
Different people age differently, but generally, once we become senior citizens- the general belief is that the elderly is limited in their functions, resistant to change, and unable to learn new things. The very people who were once super multi taskers are now being labelled as “old”.
We need to change this perspective, and let’s look at some of the challenging assumptions we need to dispel about older persons.
You are older and so no need to exercise.
We all know that exercise is critical to staying healthy and living longer as we get older as exercise enhances mobility, flexibility, and balance. Sometimes we look at the elderly and assume exercising will be hard for them. In fact, stereotypes like this can adversely affect an older person`s health as negative attitudes about their aging can affect their lives. Of course, our bodies change as we get older, and we might not be as good at certain activities and should not attempt bungee jumping, but we shouldn't assume that because we are older, we are unable to be active. Walking is the best medicine as one gets older and should be encouraged to live a fit and healthy life.
You are older and won’t understand technology.
Another common stereotype about older people is that they don't know how to use technology. The younger generation especially the millennials are computer geniuses and labelling the older people as technologically inept is not helpful. There are some older people who are willing to learn and excited about being tech-savvy, just as there are younger people who are not. Maybe it is because older people are not considered in the design of new technology, and so this can affect their ability to take part on an equal basis with other members of society as we move to participate in new ways online. So, let`s make sure the older people are not left behind as more online services emerge and engage them in training.
You are older and need to be looked after.
Another form of patronising treatment that the elderly experience suddenly is when the children want to take over in caring for them as they age. It may be often unintentional and a very innocent decision, but to the older people this ‘protection’ may not be so welcome. Say for example, when it comes to driving or cooking, the children would feel there is a need to have a carer to oversee their activities. Family members think they know what is best and that they are doing the right thing but then the older people must be allowed within family contexts to make their own decisions so that their autonomy and independence are not threatened. It`s good for them to make these choices and going about their lives, no matter what age they are.
You are older, so you are vulnerable.
Why do people stereotype the elderly as frail and vulnerable when they reach ‘senior citizen’ status? Ageing is a process for everyone in the world, and people react to their experiences differently. Some may have medical ailments and may need mobility equipment to get by. Some may be fine and still be able to run a marathon. So, let’s stop stereotyping all older people as vulnerable and get rid of the negative labels we give them.
- On this International Day of Older Persons on 1 October 2021, we must promote these good and positive values.
- Look at old age positively
- Enable older people to lead active and involved lives.
- Involve and engage them in the decisions and processes affecting their lives.
- Always Treat older people with respect and dignity.
The International Day of Older Persons reminds us NOT to forget or ignore the older people in our lives. We’re fortunate to have older people around us, whether they’re family, friends, or just general acquaintances, as they inspire us with their wisdom, experience, and are great storytellers.