Ageism: Igniting Depression and Diminishing Quality of Life for Geriatrics Everywhere

Is ageism the new racism? (photo from sciencenetdaily.com)

The various popular media outlets regularly bombard America’s already increasingly self-centered, youth obsessed culture with negative messages about aging and the aged.  Even ads, created to promote products that benefit older Americans, contain stereotyped, fear-based messaging that contributes to prejudice or indifference toward the older generation.

How Media Contributes to the Problem

At a 2006 Special Committee hearing at the U.S. Senate, 70-something actress, Doris Roberts of the popular sitcom, “Everybody Loves Raymond”, decried Hollywood’s depiction of the elderly in movies, television sitcoms, and advertisements.  Roberts testified that the elderly are most frequently depicted as helpless, unproductive, senile, and overly demanding rather than deserving.

Negative Ad Messaging

Ads that promote products designed to benefit older people often deliver their messages in negative, fear inducing ways.  For example, a message for calcium supplements might depict an elderly person slowly becoming debilitated by her bone loss.  Another shows a lonely, elderly man cloistered in his home because of his inability to walk on his own; the ad conclusion shows him happily zipping through town on an electric scooter.  Older Americans want to see positive messages coming from ads selling products targeting their age group.  For example, the calcium commercial could show a couple of older, yet active, adults taking a brisk walk together on an exercise trail stating how strong and vibrant the feel as a result of taking calcium supplements to prevent bone loss.

Ageism’s Effect on American Society

According to a 2001 Duke University survey, 80 percent of Americans aged 60 and above have experienced ageism.  Survey participants reported experiences ranging from people assuming they had memory problems or were impaired physically to jokes poking fun at the elderly.  Fully 31 percent of those surveyed said they were regularly ignored or not taken seriously due to their age group.  Just as overt, oppressive racial discrimination victimized African Americans before the Civil Rights movement, ageism inflicts the same pain, sorrow, shame and depression on America’s fastest growing population segment – the elderly.

America’s aged fought in the wars that ensured her continued freedom.  The aged marched in the Civil Rights protests of the 1960s.  America’s obsession with youth has blinded her citizens to the wisdom, experience and emotional support that the aged have to offer them.  The younger generation in America stands to benefit immensely from the friendship and mentorship of an older citizen.  Instead they pass up freely offered stories of the past and experiential or spiritual wisdom for the instant gratification of modern society.

Aging is Living

America’s youth and those on their way to reaching the “aged” label can take action to change societal views of aging and pave the way for a higher quality of life for their futures.  Those already over age 60 can lead active, healthy and productive lives to mitigate the fear of aging that America’s media perpetuates.  Schools can arrange for older Americans to tell their personal stories of war, poverty and perseverance to students, planting the seeds of respect and compassion in youth.

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