Ageism Awareness Day


Contributing Writer
Dr. Mary Ann Spanos
Director of Office for Aging Services

On October 7, Chautauqua County Office for Aging Services and the American Society on Aging celebrated Ageism Awareness Day. This day provides an opportunity to draw attention to the existence and impact of ageism in our society. We live in an aging society, but unfortunately too many of us view aging in a negative light. We are all growing older and we cannot afford to limit ourselves and others with such negative and harmful views, and why would we want to?

Look at these quotes from several famous people about growing older. Maggie Kuhn, Co-founder of the Gray Panthers stated, “there are six myths about old age, 1) That it’s a disease, a disaster. 2) That we are mindless. 3) That we are sexless. 4) That we are useless. 5) That we are powerless. 6) That we are all alike.” Author Gabriel García Márquez stated, “It is not true that people stop pursuing dreams because they grow old, they grow old because they stop pursuing dreams.” Comedian George Burns said, “By the time you’re 80 years old you’ve learned everything. You only have to remember it!” Which of these quotes can you relate to? Did you laugh at the last one? I bet you did. And that’s okay as long as you don’t translate your own feelings onto every older adult you meet. That would be an example of ageism.

Ageism is defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) as “the stereotypes (how we think), prejudices (how we feel) and discrimination (how we act) towards others or oneself based on age.” According to WHO, ageism is often combined with other forms of stereotypes, prejudices and discrimination including ableism, sexism and racism. We know that any kind of prejudice or discrimination based on stereotypes can be harmful not just to the person being subjected to it, but also to the person doing the stereotyping. And to be clear, ageism is not just a problem for older adults; people of other age groups can be the target of this prejudice at various times in their lives. In a 2005 article, Todd Nelson said, “Ageism is prejudice against our future self.” Do you think this is a healthy attitude for our society to have?

The fact is that studies have shown that ageism can actually shorten your lifespan. Individuals with a more positive self-perception of aging lived an average of 7.5 years longer than those with less positive self-perceptions even after age, gender, socioeconomic status, loneliness and functional health were taken into account. In addition, people with a more positive self-perception about aging experienced better overall health. Think about how older people are typically portrayed in the media. Overall, there are still significant negative representations in advertisements, television and movies. These ageist stereotypes can have a negative impact on an older person’s self-esteem, health status, physical and mental well-being. Showing older people in a negative light leaves people to wonder, “Where are the people who look and act like me”? Ageism is a hurtful, insulting and uninformed type of discrimination. Even well-intentioned “compliments” or comments—such as calling any older adult “honey” or “sweetie” promotes a demeaning and infantile view of an older person, as if they can’t understand what you are talking about.

Older adults are a vital and important part of society, not to mention, the economic power and wealth people over 50 generate. It’s up to all of us to make sure older people are honored and that society knows it’s not ok to be ageist. Older adults make countless contributions locally and globally and represent a meaningful and growing segment of the population. In October, I challenge all of you to consider how we treat older adults and how we want to be treated as we age. And maybe take a lesson from media star and philanthropist Oprah Winfrey who said: “Every year should teach you something valuable; whether you get the lesson is up to you. Every year brings you closer to expressing your whole and healed self.” Or Frank Lloyd Wright, architect: “The longer I live, the more beautiful life becomes.”

Thank you to the American Society on Aging for much of the content for this article and for more information on Ageism Awareness visit their website at or contact NY Connects at (716)753-4582.