Time to stop defining people by age

| Updated on January 16, 2018

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“Ageist attitudes” towards older people are widespread. It negatively affects their physical and mental health, says a new analysis by the World Health Organisation.

More than 83 000 people in 57 countries took part in the “World Values Survey”, which assessed attitudes to older people. The lowest levels of respect were reported in high income countries.

“This analysis confirms that ageism is extremely common. Yet most people are completely unaware of the subconscious stereotypes they hold about older people,” said John Beard, WHO Director of Ageing and Life Course.

“Like sexism and racism, changing social norms is possible. It is time to stop defining people by their age. It will result in more prosperous, equitable and healthier societies.”

Older people who feel they are a burden perceive their lives to be less valuable, putting them at risk of depression and social isolation.

Risk of depression

Recently published research shows that older people who hold negative views about their own ageing do not recover as well from disability, and live on average 7.5 years lesser than people with positive attitudes. By 2025 the number of people aged 60 and over will double, and by 2050 will reach 2 billion globally, with the vast majority of older people living in low and middle income countries.

Ageism can take many forms. Age limits applied to policies — such as retirement age — do not recognise the range of capacities of the older person, and assume that all older persons are the same.

This deeply entrenched institutionalised ageism may be used to discriminate against older adults when allocating health resources or when collecting data that influence health policies.

Source: WHO

Published on September 30, 2016

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