Sunday, December 13, 2009

Ageism and the Elderly

Ageism and the Elderly
Donna Webb
Axia College – University of Phoenix
SOC/120 Introduction to Sociology
January 11, 2009

Ageism and the Elderly
Respect your elder is a statement made to just about every boy and girl growing up. Even our parents did not know at the time they made that statement to us, just how disrespected elders, possibly even themselves, would become in our society. In an age when everyone is protesting against discrimination, there exists and continues to grow perhaps one of the worst discriminations ever, ageism. Taking a look at how society views and treats the aged is perhaps a look into the future for those who discriminate.
“Ageism includes categorization, stereotyping, and prejudice, but the most crucial aspect is exclusionary behavior. Ageism is the systematic stereotyping of and discrimination against people because they are old, just as racism and sexism accomplish this with skin color and gender” (Calasanti,2009). “Ageism has been called the ultimate prejudice, the last discrimination, and the cruelest rejection. The very people who are supposed to be advocates for older people have been socialized to be unaware of ageist stereotypes or their role in them” (Angus, Reeve, 2006).
Ageism is a type of oppression, but it is different from others. It is a condition that everyone will have to experience at some point in their lives, depending on how long they live and how they maintain their health through the years. A sad statement of truth is that the majority of the population is taught bigotry from very early on in their life. This learned bigotry has shaped our culture into one that is ageist. Because of this bigotry we end up causing our own oppression. (Calasanti,)
Discrimination towards the elderly is shown in different places and expressed in different ways. For years nursing homes have been infamous places of mistreatment of the elderly. Lack of proper care given, withholding food or liquid is typical of mistreatment of the aged in nursing facilities. That is not to imply that all these facilities are like that or that all caregivers in nursing facilities treat the elderly patients improperly. Public disrespect is often shown towards the elderly, showing that perhaps the ‘respect your elder’ training had ceased to be some years back. Poor treatment of the elderly could cause them to retreat into their homes and perhaps not venture out again, rather then risk insults and disrespect.
An area that one might not expect to see the ageist attitude show up would be in the adult children who are caregivers for their ailing or aged parent. Many would be criticized for treating their parent like a child rather then an adult parent. Some are forced into the position of being a caregiver, and there can be resentments that develop. However, an unfortunate truth is a role reversal occurs; the parent very often does become the child both in how they must be cared for physically, and how responsive they become mentally. There are those who do show blatant disrespect for their parent, and even enter into abuse and neglect of the parent, but for most families, the ageist attitude is not an attitude but in fact a necessity. In some cultures, children send their elderly off to the mountains to die, or banish them to a lonely existence alone in a small room. Our culture pushes to put the elderly in a home, shut them away, turn the responsibility over to others, and then breathe a sigh of relief, out of sight, out of mind.
In the health care industry, there is a prejudice towards the elderly. Less time and care are given to them because they move to slow, don’t understand or can’t communicate their needs or concerns effectively. Dr.s can treat many younger patients in the time it takes them to treat an elderly one. “Doctors who are under intense financial pressure from managed care plans and companies and low Medicare reimbursements, try to pack the maximum number of appointments into a day” (Pope, 2003).
There are approximately 76 million people, the baby boomer generation that are entering their golden years. But this time it is different. This generation consists of boomers who are stronger in mind and body and as a result will live longer then generations before them. Even with these changes there are many of these boomers, who are bringing into their later years, sickness, and mental diseases. “The areas of health care and social service must be reevaluated to better take care of these seniors. Society must rethink its ideas about retirement, ageism, and quality of life” (Dychtwald, 1997). “As a result of dramatic advances in sanitation, public health, food science, pharmacology, surgery, medicine and, lately, wellness-oriented lifestyle management, most of us will age. We are witnessing the birth of a 21st century gerontocracy” (Dychtwald, 1997).
Going into the next century, society will be facing a number of crisis’s. (Dychtwald,1997).
1.“A Pandemic of Chronic Disease – As 76 million baby boomers are barreling toward maturity, an "age wave" emerges that will soon have the strength and power to create vibrant new social forms and functions and an equally compelling potential for social, financial, political and personal catastrophe” (Dychtwald, 2005).
2. “Mass Dementia - We have increased our effectiveness at keeping people alive for decades. We already have 3 million people over the age of 85, and this is the fastest-growing segment of the population. However, we have not done that good a job of seeing to it that these long-lived men and women are functioning with full physical and mental faculties. Today, the dementia rate for the 85+ population is a staggering 47 percent” (Dychtwald, 2005). “Unless much-needed scientific breakthroughs occur, Alzheimer's will be the scourge of the future” (Dychtwald, 2005).
3. “The Caregiving Crunch - The average American now has more parents than children including in-laws and even grandparents, and 10 percent of the elderly population in our country have children who are also elders over 65. As a result, more and more of us will have to provide time, money, respite, housing, transportation, love and nourishment to our parents and our children—and possibly grandchildren and grandparents—simultaneously, for decades” (Dychtwald, 2005).
4. “Coping with Death and Dying - The contemporary approach to old age and dying emphasizes keeping people alive as long as possible, regardless of their quality of life and regardless of their wishes. Whereas in the past nearly all deaths in America occurred at home, today about 80 percent take place in institutions. Yet, except for a smattering of wonderful hospice programs, we do not have institutions that are sufficiently comforting, nurturing or supportive of the dying and their families” (Dychtwald, 2005).
5."Gerassic Park - All future-oriented public policy in America, including policy regarding Social Security and Medicare, is based on the assumption that there will be no meaningful breakthroughs that will affect longevity or biological aging. As biotechnological breakthroughs occur that could radically alter late-life disease and even human aging as we now know it, battles could erupt over who will decide how these mind-boggling technologies will be controlled and who will have access to them” (Dychtwald, 2005).
6. “An Inhospitable Marketplace - Within the U.S. marketplace there still persists an overwhelming obsession with youth. From the perspective of a 60-, 70- or 80-year-old, the world is a long way from being aging-friendly” (Dychtwald, 2005). “If we want a world that fits our needs as we grow older, we must encourage the development of new aging-friendly products in all sectors and match that with much better transgenerational marketing” (Dychtwald, 2005).
7. “Changing Markers of Old Age - Our current markers of aging have no place in the new millennium. Increasing longevity will not only postpone the arrival of old age, but will also cause all of the stages of life to stretch and shift significantly:” (Dychtwald, 2005).
8. “Financial Insecurity - Many boomers have accumulated dangerously high levels of debt and minimal savings and will not be the beneficiaries of a demographically driven home equity boost. Pensions are becoming less reliable as guaranteed benefits are swiftly being replaced by defined-contribution pension plans. The futures of Medicare and Social Security are, at best, shaky. If we do not take action now, we could face a future with massive elder poverty” (Dychtwald, 2005).
9. “Age Wars - There are profound differences among the old and the young in terms of values, interests, needs and attitudes toward government. Sixty-five-year-olds are reasonably well organized, have a great deal of free time, and have the largest affinity organization in the history of America [the AARP, formerly known as the American Association of Retired Persons], outside of religion, to battle their battles, while 25-year-olds have no political voice and are scrambling to make ends meet.” (Dychtwald, 2005).
10. “Elder Wasteland - We desperately need a heroic model of old age for our coming maturity. If elders want to have the support of younger generations, those generations have also got to feel that elders are giving something back” (Dychtwald, 2005). “If we had 70-year-olds helping to educate and nourish our children, not only might they be helping them improve their arithmetic skills, but they would also be imparting a powerful base of values that we are about to lose” (Dychtwald, 2005).
If the younger generation could embrace the wisdom and knowledge of the older generation, they could begin to see value in the elderly. They could take advantage of all the elderly have to offer them and improve their futures with it. If they could recognize the contributions made, it would help to change their attitude to one of that is more positive and accepting. Acceptance and understanding are two things that well help stop discrimination at any level but certainly stop it towards the aged. (Wexler, 2006)
“Elderly people are often and in various ways targets of prejudice. They are victims of discrimination in hiring and through forced retirement they are negatively portrayed in the media and they are targets of stereotypes about competence and mental acuity” (Martens, Greenberg, Schimel, Landau, 2004).
The elderly population is increasing due to advancements in medicine. Consequently, ageism is a problem that is affecting more and more people. Also because of advancements in medicine, more and more people are dying during old age rather than prematurely, suggesting that aging and elderly people will increasingly become a threat to people’s ability to manage death-related fear. As aging becomes an increasingly likely way we will die, aging, along with reminders of aging such as elderly adults, should become only more threatening. The more prejudice is directed at elderly people, the more people will have to fear about them. (Martens, Greenberg, Schimel, Landau, 2004).
This is a society of isms, racism, sexism, and ageism. It labels, stereotypes, and categorizes people, by shape, size, color, and age. The elderly in their later years should be able to have a peaceable life, treated with dignity and respect. However, pretty much anyone under the age of 50 is a target for an attack of an attitude of ageism at some point. Those who do the disrespecting don’t stop to consider that at some point, they will also be at the receiving end of that attitude.

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