For a printable (PDF) version of the information below, click here. (80 KB)
Many senior groups, service
providers, and academics in Canada have noted that ageism can be an important
factor in senior abuse. (1) (2) (3)
Ageism is also part of attitudes
where people believe that older adults can be treated in demeaning ways.
Many people note that as they grow older and as they reach certain age
milestones, (age 65 being one of them), others begin
to treat them differently. Their attitudes change. In many cases, being treated
differently means being treated as “less”— less valued, less capable etc. Or
they are stereotyped. That
is ageism. Ageism is also reflected when younger persons implicitly or
explicitly act as if they are more entitled to family or social resources than
older adults are.
Ageism can involve stereotypes and myths, or outright disdain and dislike (e.g.,
"I don't like working with older people"). In some cases, ageism means
avoiding contact with older people. Ageism includes the wide range of attitudes
that prevent people from accurately assessing and responding to social problems
and conditions of older adults. Ageism can be reflected in discriminatory
practices in housing, employment, and services of all kinds. (5)
What is the
Connection Between Abuse and Ageism?
How Do We Get Past Ageism?(17)
1. Identify the myths and mis-information.
Recognize the myths about aging and negative attitudes about older adults. Start challenging the myths. Challenge the language.
There are many erroneous beliefs in our society - e.g. that older adults' lives are less valuable and older adults are less deserving of having their rights respected; that older adults feel emotional pain less or do not have sexual feelings; or that older adults are largely responsible for growing health care or other social costs.
2. Go beyond the stereotypes of aging.
Recognize that a label like "elderly" or "seniors" tells us little about what to expect from the person. These labels do not tell us whether the person is kind or uncaring, healthy or her health is diminishing, mentally capable or mentally incapable, a reliable or an unreliable worker or volunteer. Labels do not tell us about the person's capacity for friendship or creativity or accomplishment.
Address ageism by highlighting older adults' individual, collective, and lifelong contributions to our society. (1)
3. Learn more about aging.
Recognize ageism for what it is. The better informed we are about aging and what to expect, the better we are able to evaluate and resist many of the inaccurate and negative stereotypes of aging. This will help us better understand which differences are relevant in aging, and which are not.
4. Learn more about ageism and discrimination.
It is very common for older adults to face discrimination in housing, health, and other key services. They may be treated as burdens on services, excluded from or simply refused admission to services. Learn to recognize when "neutral policies" aren't "neutral". Also recognize how ageism intersects with other "isms" such as sexism or racism.
5. Listen to seniors who have experienced ageism.
They are in the best position to tell us how ageism affects their lives.
6. Monitor media and respond to ageist material.
Changing the typically negative ways in which older adults are portrayed in news programs, commercials, films and television shows that reach millions of people on a daily basis is necessary if ageism is to be reduced. Write a letter to or e-mail the editor, TV sponsor or movie producer.
7. Speak up about ageism.
When someone you know uses ageist language or images, tactfully let them know about the inaccuracy. Educate them about the correct meaning.
When someone disparages a senior, tells a joke that ridicules them, or makes disrespectful comments about an older person, we can let them know that this is hurtful and that as seniors or advocates we find the comments offensive and harmful.
8. Watch our own language.
Most of us, including health professionals, health advocates and consumers use terms and expressions that may perpetuate ageism. We depersonalize older adults by referring to them generically as "the elderly" or "our seniors".
9. Talk openly about aging issues and ageism.
The more ageism and age discrimination remain hidden, the more people believe it is acceptable to act this way.
Show and recognize the heterogeneity of seniors. Let others see real older people - people who are resourceful, articulate and creative, who are familiar as valued friends or coworkers. Also include older adults who have conditions that may limit their abilities in some ways; they are not limited in other ways. People who do not fit the stereotype are a powerful way to fight ageism.
10. Build intergenerational bridges to promote better understanding.
Ageism often builds in the context of ignorance. The more generations realize they are connected to each other throughout the lifespan and affect each others' wellbeing, the greater the opportunities for reducing negative attitudes against young and old, alike.
11. Provide support for organizations that address ageism.
There are a number of organizations that advocate for better treatment and greater acceptance of older adults. Their influence and effectiveness depends, to some extent, on their membership size and the adequacy of their finances. Join. Be involved. Be part of a positive solution.
12. Push for changes from your elected representative.
Policies that perpetuate ageism can be changed if enough people let the appropriate politicians know that they want this change. Keep informed on key aging issues and policies. Know the names of government officials to contact.
(1) ARA Consulting Group Inc. (1994 ). Older Canadians and the Abuse of Seniors: A Continuum from Participation to Empowerment. Health Canada. Family Violence Prevention Division.
(2) N. Murphy (August 1994). Resource and Training Kit for Service Providers: Abuse and Neglect of Older Adults. Health Canada. Mental Health Division, Health Services Directorate: Health Programs and Services Branch. Available online at www.hc-sc.gc.ca/hppb/familyviolence/html/agekit_e.html
(3) Ontario Human Rights Commission.
(4) R. N. Butler, Why Survive? Being Old in America. (New York: Harper & Row, 1975)
(5) R. N. Butler, “Dispelling ageism: the cross cutting intervention”, (1989) Annals of American Academy of Political and Social Science, Vol. 503, 138-147 at 138.
(6) Ontario Human Rights Commission. See also www.ohrc.on.ca/english/publications/age-policy_2.shtml
(7) E. S. Kelchner, “Ageism’s impact and effect on society: not just a concern for the old” (1999), 32 (4) Journal of Gerontological Social Work, 85-100, at 88.
(8) Kerby News. "Our Comment" Does family practice need doctoring? April 2004, p. 5. Kerby Centre, Calgary, AB.
(9) E. Gee, & G. Gutman, (eds.). (2000). The Overselling of Population Aging: Apocalyptic Demography, Intergenerational Challenges, and Social Policy. (Don Mills, Ontario: Oxford University Press).
(10) See for example "Advertising and abuse" A Shared Concern (newsletter of BCCEAS). www.bcceas.ca/newsletter_winter_04.pdf
(11) M. Beaulieu & C. Spencer, Older Adults' Personal Relationships and the Law in Canada: Legal, Psycho-Social and Ethical Aspects. (Ottawa, Law Commission of Canada, September 1999) at page 17. Online at:
(12) E. S. Kelchner, “Ageism’s impact and effect on society: not just a concern for the old” (1999), 32 (4) Journal of Gerontological Social Work, 85-100, at 97.
(13) Division of Aging, Health Canada, “Communicating with Seniors: Advice Techniques, Tips”, Catalogue No. H88-3/26-1999E. Online at: www.hc-sc.gc.ca/seniors-aines/pubs/communicating/comsen_e.pdf
(14) G. Laws, “Understanding ageism: lessons from feminism and postmodernism.” (1995), 35 Gerontologist, 112-118, at 113.
(15) Tomita, S.K. (1990). "The denial of elder mistreatment by victims and abusers: the application of Neutralization Theory" Violence and Victims, 5(3) 171-184. The abused person may also be susceptible ("But who will take care of my son if I don't take him in when he is having such a difficult time? I can't let him be homeless").
(17) This set of steps is adapted from work done by Otto Wahl on "Stigma".
Resources and Further Readings
Manitoba Seniors Directorate. Advancing Age: Promoting Older Manitobans. Available online at: www.gov.mb.ca/sd/advancingage.html
The Manitoba Seniors Directorate has identified the need for a coordinated and comprehensive framework of legislation, public policy and programs to ensure that Manitoba is well-positioned to respond to the current, emerging and future needs of the province's aging population. See some of their short term initiatives to promote intergenerational understanding. www.gov.mb.ca/sd/pdf/AdvancingAge_Short_term_initiatives.pdf
M. Baroque. The Subtleties of Discrimination (Ageism).www.seniorsforjobs.com/subtleties_of_discrimination.htm
B. Robinson. (1994) Ageism. http://socrates.berkeley.edu/~aging/ModuleAgeism.html#anchor736321
C. Spencer. (Winter, 2002) "Ageism and Age Discrimination in Canada: An Introduction, GRC News, Vol. 21 (2), 3-6. Online at : www.harbour.sfu.ca/gero/grcn_pdfs/vol21no2.pdf
American Administration on Aging. www.aoa.gov/prof/notes/Docs/Ageism.pdf
L. S. Whitton. Re-examining Elder Law Practices: Reflections on Ageism. Prepared for the American Bar Association. www.abanet.org/rppt/publications/magazine/1998/jf98whit.html
Canadian Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse. Page last updated Friday June 11, 2010
Questions? Comments? Contact Webmaster:
Canadian Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse ~~Réseau canadien pour la
prévention des mauvais traitements envers les aîné(e)s
About this Site: For copyright and other information, click here. Contact us, click here. Canadian Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse.
Page last updated Tuesday December 13, 2011. Questions? Comments? Contact Webmaster: