Although elders are respected and revered in some other cultures, they do not enjoy this favored treatment in America. In fact, many people think it is acceptable to treat people differently because of their age in ways that would spark a backlash of anger, if the discrimination were related to race, gender, religion or sexual identity. There is an attitude that, once a person has worked most of his expected years, he is on the decline and of less value. That sentiment is woven into the fabric of the ugly reality of prejudice against the elderly.
Prejudice against aging Americans can take two forms – abuse or discrimination. Each type has several sub-categories.
Abuse of seniors can be physical, financial, psychological, or sexual. Because the vast majority of aging adults suffer their mistreatment at the hands of family members or trusted close friends, on whom the older person is partially or wholly dependent, the victim is highly unlikely to report the behavior. Much of the attention given to the mistreatment of elders focuses on abuse.
Ageism is a word we seldom hear, unlike other “isms,” such as racism or sexism. Just as other forms of discrimination are reflections of thinking that certain groups of people are inferior, ageism indicates a lack of respect for people because they have had the good fortune to live a long life.
Seniors in America endure commercial abuse on a regular basis. It can be more difficult for a person who is 55 or older to get a job. The rate of unemployed or underemployed people who are 55+ is over is 12 percent, which is more than double the overall national rate. One of the common excuses people give for not hiring an older person is the expectation that she will miss work frequently for sick days. The reality, however, is the opposite. Statistics show that people age 55 and older are more reliable than younger people.
Older people across the nation find it hard to get a mortgage, rent an apartment or buy a new car. Lenders hesitate to finance large purchases for older people, assuming they will not live long enough to pay off the loans.
Many seniors suffer unnecessarily with treatable medical conditions, either because they do not seek medical care, thinking that “aches and pains” are a normal part of aging. Their medical professionals may also have a casual response to the medical complaints of seniors and do not bother to perform adequate examinations or diagnostic procedures.
Poking fun at a person and using unflattering nicknames based on a person’s advanced age is still tolerated in our society. Similar behavior would be reported, if directed at someone based on other protected classes, such as race, religion, disability, or gender. Marginalizing people hurts all of society, not only the victim of discrimination. With any luck, you will be 65 or older one day. Work now to create the kind of reality you will want to experience when you get there.
How You Can Get Help for Elder Discrimination or Abuse
In cases of abuse, contact law enforcement right away. For age discrimination, talk with a local elder law attorney about remedies available in your state.
HuffPost. “Elder Discrimination & Abuse.” (accessed July 19, 2018) https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/elder-discrimination-abuse_us_598a0575e4b08a4c247f2629