My daughter, a “geriatric” nurse who works in Singapore and is on a study grant in Gerontology sponsored by a government hospital, mentioned one time to me the word “ageism.”
Ageism refers to prejudice, stereotyping and discriminatory behavior against older adults 65 years old and above. It is said that there are three kinds of “isms” today; racism, sexism, and ageism. According to Robert Butler, “ageism is another form of bigotry similar to racism and sexism.” As modern society abhors one who is racist or sexist, there should also be no place in our world today for an “ageist.”
Ageism is found in countries like Japan, which has the most number of old people according to a study, followed by Italy, Finland, Portugal, Greece, and Germany. The Philippines, with the elderly comprising 5.1 percent of its more than 100 million people, is no exception in having to deal with this behavior.
Erdman B. Palmore, in his book “Ageism: Negative and Positive,” identifies stereotypes and prejudices against the elderly. People often see old adults as useless, sickly, impotent, ugly, isolated, poor, depressed, and with mental illness. With such negative impressions, old adults are often treated in difficult, miserable, and inhumane ways.
In the medical field, according to a study published in the European Journal of Ageing, there is “ample evidence for ageism” among physicians, and also among nurses and social workers — people with direct contact with the elderly. One example of ageism is the clear age bias in diagnostic procedures attributed to a physician’s reluctance to carry out intrusive diagnosis among older patients. Also, “the chances of being referred for surgery were slimmer for older people despite many reports that postoperative recovery is not dependent on age.” With regard to nurses in hospitals, they shout and use shallow language, without any humor and without even addressing the patient’s name, while social workers during training believe that prospects for recovery from an illness are much lower for older adults than for younger people with the same illness irrespective of the quality of treatment.
At home, older adults also suffer maltreatment. Many children give their parents cold treatment when they are out of a job and can’t provide income anymore, when they become “makulit” (forgetful), or smelly, sickly, and always in bed.
Hurtful words, foul jokes, criticisms, acts of disrespect, and indifference are often received by seniors from neighbors, friends, and even strangers.
The compulsory retirement policies of the military and big corporations like banks are also forms of ageism. Persons reaching the age of 55, 60, or 65 are mandated to retire even if they are still at the prime of their abilities, losing income opportunities.
According to Marie Baird, “getting old is like having a criminal record; every little thing counts against you.” Another writer associates old age with death, a notion validated in the European study of healthcare professionals: “People associate old age with death. Therefore, being physically close to older adults or even thinking about them tends to evoke death anxiety.”
Palmore notes that though there are also positive impressions of the elderly among many people, who see them as kind, full of wisdom, trustworthy, happy, etc., negative impressions often outweigh the good ones, thus the prejudices.
Fr. Dave Concepcion, a parish priest, once said: “The remaining years in one’s life are his or her best years, deserving respect, care, and honesty.”
“Witch, withered, cranky, senile” are words typically used by ageists against old people, not thinking that the elderly are God’s children, too, and not remembering that old saying—a warning, in fact—which goes: “Tatanda ka rin” (You will also grow old).
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Mario D. Dalangin, 65, is a member of church organizations in Las Piñas and a proud and happy grandfather to Rifqi Gabriel.
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