Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Care Partner Wednesday--What is Ageism and Why is it Unacceptable?

Claudia sharing a hug with one of our residents, Jean

--a guest post by Claudia Osmond. Thank you, Claudia, for helping me celebrate my 200th blog post!

Have you ever felt insulted by someone saying these kinds of things to you:

“You haven’t changed a bit!”
“Twenty-nine and counting…”
“There’s no way you have a 25-year-old son! You don’t look old enough!”
“You’re a grandma? I never would have guessed it!”

Or offended by words like these:

“You’re only as old as you allow yourself to feel!”
“Live your life and forget your age.”
“Age is just a number.”
“Be young at heart!”

If you answered yes, then, good! You should be.
If you answered no, then, that’s too bad! Because you should be.

Why? Because, as well-meaning as they are, each one of the above comments is ageist. As much as they may be intended to help take the sting out of yet another candle on the birthday cake, another wrinkle around the eyes, another ache or pain in the back or knee, they deny the experience and importance and beauty of aging. They say your value and worth lie solely in who you were, not in who you are. They infer that being young is where it’s at; that there are certain predetermined characteristics of how you should look and act when you are a certain age, and that possessing any of the characteristics reserved for “younger people” when you are old(er) is somehow miraculous and in need of a comment.

Why should we deny our age?
Why should we grant a certain age bracket the copyright on good looks? Abilities? Accomplishments?
Why should we feel flattered to appear that we’ve not changed?
Why should we be reduced to a contest of numbers?

Because Ageism exists, that’s why. And it is saluted as the last accepted ism.

Not only accepted, but saluted, you say?

Yes. Because it’s often cloaked in good intentions (“Oh, you look great for 85! Can you believe she’s 85?”). It masquerades itself in cuteness and humour and clever memes (Have you seen this one: At my age, happy hour is naptime. Funny, right?) It impersonates concern and safety and knowing what’s best (“Oh, she used to be so active and now she can’t do the things she once did. The poor thing.”)

But, as compassionate and well-intentioned as it might seem, at its heart, Ageism is dangerous. It makes us afraid. It isolates us. It divides and separates us. We’ve heard what “getting old” is like. No one wants to get old. No one wants to go grey. No one wants to have wrinkles, or age spots, or sags. It’s unattractive. No one wants to get slower, or forget, or be forgotten. It’s sad. No one wants to end up like that. We’ve seen how Ageism has pushed aging adults to the sidelines, to the margins, by a society that has given it the power to determine what makes us valuable: Productivity. Youth. Power. Prescribed Beauty Standards. Ageism tells us our contribution to society has an expiry date.

So we deny what’s happening to us. And we help others deny what’s happening to them. We seek out elixirs, and potions, and convincing quotables that we hope will somehow magically trick the hands of time into stopping – if not outrightly turning them back – to, please, let us remain young. If we can look/be/feel young, then everything will be okay. Because youth is where it’s at.

At least that’s what we’re told.

But what Ageism won’t tell us is that it’s a spoiled, narrow-minded, tyrant ruler who deprives its subjects of the depth and breadth and vibrant colours that years of life experience offer in all their glorious hues. Ageism knows nothing of the subtle yet powerful tones of aged Wisdom and Grace. It’s a stranger to the opaque shades of mature Perseverance and Courage and Grit. It’s oblivious to the deep tints of ripened Understanding and Confidence and Acceptance. It tunes out the cultivated stories being told by weathered faces, and is repulsed by the papery-thin, spotty hands of those who have given and loved and done so much. It scoffs at forgetfulness, mocks perceptiveness, and disregards quietness. Ageism won’t concede that every age has a portion of where it’s at, and that elders have a grander and fuller and more complete sum total.

As a result, Ageism misses out on discerning the well-earned reward of simply Being. Not striving, or clamouring, or climbing, or doing. Being.

And it wants us to miss out, too.

So forget being twenty-nine and counting. Forget trying to trick the hands of time. Forget believing that beauty and worth eventually expire.

Refuse to submit to the ideals of that spoiled, narrow-minded tyrant.

Change in whichever way you want.
Live your life and embrace your age.
Look old enough.
Be wise and courageous and confident at heart.

And be offended if others refuse to acknowledge these things!

Claudia is an elder care culture changer by day, middle-grade author by night. When she's not busy working or writing you will most likely find her reading or knitting or down in her basement leather studio pretending she knows what she's doing. You can also find her at 


  1. No, I'd rather not contribute to the ever-growing tendency of people to be offended. When people don't believe I'm nearly sixty, I say "Thank you." I've never seen the sense in caving to the twenty-nine again mindset, because if someone wants to look hard enough into my background they'll learn my true age. Then, they can say "You don't look that old," and I'll have another reason to smile.

  2. Thank you for affirming growing old and embracing it. I'm almost 70 and admit to being anxious about my future knowing that both of my parents lived past 90. I want to be as productive as I can as long as I can, but with reasonable expectations.

    1. That's a fantastic goal, Janice. I think sometimes, though, I might be tempted to be a little unreasonable in my expectations. If the age I am doesn't matter, then many things that I didn't think possible, just might be. Ability, health, cognition--all these bring with them some limitations, but I think sometimes we impose those limitations before we dreamed a little. "Oh, I'm too old to..." Maybe we need to say, "What would I dream of doing, if I could?" and then look to see if there is a way to make it possible. I know a 90 year old man who had always dreamed of flying, who went up in a helicopter for his 90th birthday. They had to lift him into the seat, and he wasn't flying the plane, but it was close to his dream, and he was thrilled. Maybe we need to, at any age, dream a little!