In a cancel culture where there’s zero tolerance for prejudice, at least one form of discrimination appears to be alive and well: ageism. Whether you have personally experienced someone discounting you because of your age or you’ve felt the pressures to change your appearance as you age to appear younger (I’m talking to you gray hairs and anti-aging beauty products), ageism is real and, as it turns out it can affect your health.
“We should be able to accept our wrinkles without trying to look like a younger person,” Dr. Catherine Sarkisian, a geriatrician and professor at the University of California, Los Angeles says.
What is ageism?
Ageism involves prejudice based on people’s advancing age. It can be as overt as not hiring someone because they are older, or as subtle as giving a loved one a meant-to-be funny “you’re over the hill” birthday card.
And it turns out that nearly all older adults have experienced some form of ageism in their day-to-day lives, a new study shows.
“Ageism may be the most common form of discrimination and the most socially condoned form,” says study author Julie Ober Allen, an assistant professor of health promotion at the University of Oklahoma.
“Awareness of how harmful racism, sexism, homophobia and other ‘-isms’ can be has increased in the last 60 years, but ageism still gets overlooked and ignored,” she adds.
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How ageism can affect your health
Allen led the study as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research.
For the study, she and her colleagues examined poll results from more than 2,000 people between 50 and 80 years of age about their everyday experiences. The participants received a score based on their answers to 10 questions about their own experiences and beliefs about aging.
The higher the score, the more likely folks were to be in poor physical or mental health, have chronic health conditions, and/or show signs of depression.
Fully 65% of respondents said they regularly see, hear or read jokes about older people, and 45% said they had more personal experiences, where others assumed they had trouble with technology, vision, hearing, or their memory because of their age.
However, all forms of ageism may not be inflicted by others. Some of it may be a result of your own worries and fears related to aging. In fact, some questions looked at internalized forms of ageism. Many people agreed that having health problems is