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Please enjoy this special blog, which is a short summary of the presentation given at the At Home In Darien Annual Meeting on December 10, 2020 by guest speaker Marie Allen.  Ms. Allen is the Executive Director of the Southwestern Connecticut Agency on Aging. For the full video of the presentation and the meeting, please click here.

Where Anger, Anxiety and Ageism Intersect With the Pandemic

Stages of Response to the Pandemic

Disbelief — This can’t be happening – Not here in the United States – It won’t last long – It won’t affect everyone

Anger — You can’t tell me to stay homeYou can’t take away my work, social experiences, access to care

Anxiety — When will it end?Will my family be okay?

Hope — In people and science

Although none of these stages has left us in its entirety, we look to 2021 with hope and faith in people and science.  We believe that a vaccination will eradicate the worst elements of the Coronavirus and we will resume some modicum of normalcy.

Origins of Ageism

There are many different theories on the origins of ageism.

There is a strong perception that different age groups compete for diminishing resources in a zero-sum gain situation.  In other words, one person’s gain must result in another person’s loss. Some young people resent the funding of older adults retirement, as they believe it will result in their own loss.

It is important to differentiate between the age of the body and the value of any person.  Older people who feel they are a burden perceive their lives to be less valuable, putting them at risk of depression and social isolation.

The proliferation of communities for older adults has been very successful in some parts of the country.  However, there is a body of research to suggest that where there is age segregation, when the younger and older generations do not socially engage, ageism is likely to flourish.

Intersection of Ageism and the Pandemic

Whenever older people are mentioned in relation to COVID-19, it is nearly always as a risk group. The frequent portrayal of older people as vulnerable during the pandemic is, at the very least, an abridged version of the truth.  Older chronological age is indeed a risk factor for COVID infection, disease severity, and mortality. However, older people are not just a homogenous group of defenseless people in need of protection.

Restrictions designed to shield the vulnerable might cause some older people to feel like a burden or to feel targeted. Age limits applied to policies such as retirement age for example, do not recognize the range of capacities of the older person – and assume that all older persons are the same.  This deeply entrenched institutionalized ageism may be used to discriminate against older adults when allocating health resources or when collecting data that influence health policies.

Todd Nelson said, “Ageism is the only prejudice that we commit against our own future selves.” Along with race and gender, people commonly use age to categorize — and form stereotypes about — others. Of the three categories, age is the only one in which the members of the in-group (the young) will eventually join the out-group (the old). Although ageism is found cross-culturally, it is especially prevalent in the United States, where most people regard growing older with depression, fear, and anxiety.

Ageism is a reality in western societies, and current views of older people are too often tinged with false beliefs and prejudices. Public authorities often consider older adults to be a burden rather than an integral segment of the population with a subset of members who must be supported. The media has a considerable role in the propagation of ageist stereotypes and negative attitudes towards older adults, particularly in times of crisis when age is not a relevant factor. The COVID-19 pandemic has accentuated the exclusion of, and prejudice against, older adults. The current crisis highlights a disturbing public discourse about aging that questions the value of older adults’ lives and disregards their valuable contributions to society.

Can We Change Ageist Thinking? 

Social Scientist Ashton Applewhite says, “In our society, there is this endless drumbeat of youth. We need to challenge the underlying message that age decreases your value.” Medicine is improving, and life expectancy is increasing. Technology is allowing older adults to stay more independent and engaged. The potential period to be productive after retirement has been extended a good 20 years or more. Meanwhile, baby boomers are aging and demanding different (and better) ways of “doing” old. As there is more intergenerational interaction — whether in formal or informal programs, cohousing, or other intentional communities — children, parents, and others will better realize the contributions of elders. At the same time, older people will gain a greater sense of purpose and self.

“We all aspire to live to be old, and consequently we all must work to create a society where old age is respected, if not honored, and where persons who have reached old age are not marginalized.” Dr. Robert Butler, International Longevity Council President

For the full video of the presentation of, Where Anger, Anxiety and Ageism Intersect With the Pandemic by Marie Allen, Executive Director of the Southwestern Connecticut Agency on Aging, presented at the At Home In Darien Annual Meeting on December 10, 2020, please click here.