Due to a strong system of stereotypes and prejudice, the elderly become subjects to discrimination. Older people are often perceived by society as children who cannot effectively perform the social roles of adults. The elderly face the threat of being discriminated in many spheres of social life, starting from the field of medicine, and finishing with work environment. There have been several academic studies conducted with the aim of decoding and demystifying the ideas about inferiority of elder people. As research shows, these false ideas about the lack of capacity of the elderly to function normally in society is backed up by ‘scientific’ evidence and microagression that the elderly face in their everyday life, which only reinforces the existing prejudice.
According to Forster (1993), age is being used as a physical limitation to stop people from education, work, and relationship. The problem of age discrimination in the workplace has already become the norm. According to the author, however, research has shown that older workers have less absenteeism, more job stability, and greater output that younger workers (Forster, 1993). Overall (2006) expresses a similar idea and explains the ways in which these limitations are set and justified. Namely, according to the author, it is society that defines ‘impairment’ and ‘disability’. This is supported by a number of cross-cultural studies that demonstrate that physical states that are defined as ‘illnesses’ in one society are considered absolutely normal by representatives of other societies. Allen (2004) in her book ‘Differences Matter’ also supports the idea that pathological physical conditions are constructed and classified by society. Thus, the seemingly ‘biological’ reasons that support the practice of giving a limited access of the elderly to public resources are actually created by society.
The elderly are also subjects to discrimination in the area of medicine. Allan (2004) argues that ‘the deficit model of aging characterizes old age as a pathological condition in which individuals undergo physical and mental decline’. According to Rivlin (1995), this results in a lesser likelihood of the elderly receiving a quick and an effective treatment. For instance, Rivlin (1995) argues that society promotes the idea that the elderly gain less from treatments because they are not going to be around for a long time. Also, it is assumed that elder people will not handle treatment well because they are not physically or mentally strong enough. Allan (2004) explain this paradigm of thinking in healthcare professions by the fact that healthcare providers typically deal with the elders that have health issues or are dying.
The idea about the physical and mental inferiority of the elderly is also actively used to explain the so called ‘generation gaps’ and difficulties in intergenerational communication. While difficulties in communication process between the elderly and other age groups do exist, they are socially constructed rather than actual. The myth about older people becomes the reality. McCan, Daily, Giles, and Ota (2005) in their study found that the more negative a person’s views are towards the elderly, the more likely they are to act towards them. These stereotypes regarding the characteristics of the older people makes the communication intergenerational communication process much more difficult. Allan, however, expands the arguments presents by McCan, Daily, Giler, and Ota (2005) and shows that the elderly are not the only group that experiences a special attitude on the part of society. Namely, according to the author, throughout the history, the attitude of society towards children and childhood has been changing, which would often result in discrimination of children, especially those with a low socio-economic statuses (Allan, 2004). Although due to the considerable changes in perception of childhood, ‘the twentieth century is known as the era of youth’ (Allan, 2004), this is not likely to last long and experts believe that the 21st century will integrate gerontocracy again.
As it has already been mentioned before, ‘science’ is often used as an effective mechanism of reinforcing inequalities and legitimizing the discrimination of the elders. Allan (2004) argues that gerontology ‘framed old age as a problem for policy makers and for elders themselves’. Although not all studies ‘show’ moral of physical incapability of elders, they often create a misconception that this age group is fundamentally different from other age groups. One example of it is the study conducted by Ardizzi et al (2014), where the scholars where the scholars show that those who are a part of the same age group are more likely to remember each other’s faces, given one another greater attention, and induce longer looking time. These, at least seemingly, innocent finding indeed are often used to ‘explain’ and thus legitimize lack of intergenerational communication. In addition to this, such studies reinforce the mistaken belief of fundamental difference of the elderly from other age group. For instance, Ardizzi et al (2014) in their study show that the elderly are typically not prone to mimicry.
It is crucial to apply the above-mentioned information to healthcare field. It is important to understand that the elderly is a heterogeneous group, which means that there are strong differences in the mental and physical state from one elder individual to another one. Therefore, categorizing a person only on the basis his or her age group affiliation means reinforcing discrimination. In addition to this, healthcare providers need to be effective in terms of decoding and demystifying the ideology that discriminates against the elderly and favors other age groups.
- Ardizzi, M., Sestito, M., Martini, F., Umilta, M. A., Ravera, R., & Gallese, V. (2014). When Age Matters: Differences in Facial Mimicry and Autonomic Responses to Peers’ Emotions in Teenagers and Adults. PLoS ONE, 9(10). Retrieved from http://libraries.state.ma.us/ login?gwurl=http://go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do? p=AONE&sw=w&u=mcp_main&v=2.1&it=r&id=GALE%7CA418126573&asid=2637d 80c462ca49faa70692807ce0b8a
- Forster, P. (1993, March 06). The fortysomething barrier: medicine and age discrimination. British Medical Journal, p. 637+. Retrieved March 18, 2017, from libraries.state.ma.us/ login?gwurl=http://go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?p=AONE &sw=w&u=mcp_main&v=2.1&id=GALE%7CA13717485&it=r&asid=e3709f66d4f0f01 78186f354cd5e093f
- McCann, R. M., Dailey, R. M., Giles, H., & Ota, H. (2005). Beliefs about intergenerational communication across the lifespan: middle age and the roles of age stereotyping and respect norms. Communication Studies, 56(4), 293+. Retrieved from http:// libraries.state.ma.us/login?gwurl=http://go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do? p=AONE&sw=w&u=mcp_main&v=2.1&it=r&id=GALE%7CA140142931&asid=0fa2c 737511ee290575ecc6a355a1cf0 2e9bdeac835d8fd2aa18
- Overall, C. (2006). Old age and ageism, impairment and ableism: exploring the conceptual and material connections. NWSA Journal, 18(1), 126+. Retrieved from http:// libraries.state.ma.us/login?gwurl=http://go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?p=AONE&sw=w&u=mcp_main&v=2.1&it=r&id=GALE%7CA144150161&asid=e373b d761c8567e87bd86574f2c01de6
- Rivlin, M. M. (1995, May 6). Protecting elderly people: flaws in ageist arguments. British Medical Journal, 310(6988), 1179+. Retrieved from http://libraries.state.ma.us/login? gwurl=http://go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do? p=EAIM&sw=w&u=mcp_main&v=2.1&it=r&id=GALE%7CA16928365&asid=5bfb8c1 c1104