Thursday, February 2, 2017

As we live longer, Agism can be a problem for society

As we progress into the twenty-first century, ageing has become increasingly recognised as an important issue facing individuals, families, communities and nations. Increasing age is related to long-term health conditions, higher rates of disability and poorer reported health status.

In 1960 the UN estimated that there were just 225 million people aged 60 years and over worldwide, while 30 years later in 1990 that figure had doubled to 450 million. Globally, the proportion of the population aged 65 years and over is projected to reach 25 percent in the more developed regions, 14 percent in the less developed regions and 8 percent in the least developed countries of the world by the year 2051. The worldwide population aged 80 years and over is also expected to experience a more than fivefold increase by 2020 (Australian Bureau of Statistics 2004).

The ageing of the world’s population is primarily a result of the high fertility levels reached after World War II combined with reduced death rates at all ages. Along with the significant increase in the proportion of the world’s population that is elderly will come a need for further understanding of older populations and their specific requirements around the world, with an aim to anticipating and meeting the changing needs of an ageing international community

Ageism does not discriminate. It comes in many forms and from
many different sources. In Canada:
      Age discrimination towards seniors 66 and older comes primarily from younger people (56%).
      More than one-in-four (27%) seniors say they’ve experienced age discrimination from government
      More than one-third (34%) comes from healthcare professionals and the healthcare system
      Nearly nine-in-ten seniors 66 and older who encountered ageism from the government, attribute it to programs and policies that do not take into account the needs of older people
      Nearly eight-in-ten seniors 66 and older who reported age discrimination in healthcare, said a healthcare professional had dismissed their complaints as an inevitable sign of aging
      The three most common forms of age discrimination faced by Canadian seniors include:
o  being ignored or treated as though they are invisible (41%)
o  being treated like they have nothing to contribute (38%)
o  The assumption that they are incompetent (27%)
o  Two Unique Views on Aging Older Canadians are much more positive about aging than younger generations, underscoring the need to challenge ageist attitudes.

Canadians overall have a negative perception of aging:
      89 per cent of Canadians associate aging with something negative like not being able to get around easily, losing independence or being alone
      Gen Y and Gen X are the most likely to hold a negative perception of aging; they are the least likely to think people 75 and older are pleasant, independent or healthy, yet the most likely to describe them as grumpy. A further one-in-three describe them as dependent, sick or frail

We are living longer and as we learn more about aging, this trend will continue. We know that there are very specific risks to avoid if we want to age in good health. A report from Australia on the study of Aging, shows some of the things we need to do to live longer are:
      Eat well and eat healthy
      Exercise: people who did not exercise were found to be at high risk of mortality over the first 2 years of the study. Those who reported exercising more, survived longer, were more likely to be male and have better self reported health.
      Stay involved in Social networks; Social Networks comprising discretionary relationships were protective against mortality
      in a ten year follow up. This was found for participants living in both the community and residential care facilities.
      Psychological factors including intact cognitive functioning, higher expectancy of control over life, and for women, better morale, were linked to better survival odds over 8 years, independent of health and physical functioning.
      Try not to get depressed. Depressive symptoms present a greater risk of mortality for men than women, with incident depression in old age representing a greater risk for m

Society around the world is aging and it is clear that if we don’t address ageism as a societal issue now, it will compound and become more entrenched as our population ages. Change however, won’t happen overnight, and it is not the exclusive responsibility of any one group. In collaboration and consultation with older people, individuals, organizations and policy makers all have a role to play in building an age-inclusive society.

As individuals and as a society, we must shine a light on the issue of ageism. We need to recognize, call out and challenge the negative stereotypes and assumptions about aging and older people. Rather than make assumptions about an individual’s abilities or quality of life based on their age, we need to be open-minded, view aging with optimism and reach out to older adults as vibrant, important and valued contributors to society.

Organizations need to raise awareness of ageism and be active contributors to ending it. As employers, the value and significant contributions older workers can and do make should not be overlooked. We also need to better understand and meet the diverse needs of older consumers – after all, they encompass a broad age range, and the needs of a 65-year-old may be quite different to those of an 85-year-old.

Policy makers, both government and non-governmental agencies, need to collaborate and plan for an age-inclusive Canada. Building on the work that governments are already doing, there needs to be continued focus on developing policies that enable people of all ages to have the choices they need to live their lives to the fullest.

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