The first steps in tackling an issue is defining the topic of conversation and all the variables involved, identifying the surrounding factors, and examining the root causes of this issue. Ageism, as defined by The World Health Organization (WHO), is the stereotyping and discrimination against individuals or groups on the basis of their age; ageism can take many forms, including prejudicial attitudes, discriminatory practices, or institutional policies and practices that perpetuate stereotypical beliefs

People often don’t realize this, but age discrimination is equivalent to discrimination based on gender, race or disability. It has become such a big issue that WHO has laws against ageism.

In Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Ted talk, ‘The Danger of a Single Story’, she said; “to insist on only the negative stories is to flatten my experience and overlook the many other stories that formed me. The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story...” This can be related to the stereotypes that are given to the senior citizens in our community. Who are sometimes spoken about using derogatory appellations like “bed blockers” “wrinkled” “hard of hearing,” etc.

Assumption is the mother of all mistakes. Assumptions and stereotypes do more harm than good. We should not assume that people we meet are incapacitated or senile because they are older aged because it is insensitive.

In most African and Asian cultures, the elderly people in their communities are given the highest honor because the children are taught from a young age that wisdom often comes with age and respect ought to be given to everyone in the community especially the elders. Because of the difference in culture in North America and Europe, and the fast paced living in most of the big cities, a person’s importance and relevance is often tied to their ability to work, earn a living and raise a family. So when a person loses the ability to do these things due to age or other reasons, they become irrelevant and are seen as a burden to the people around them and the community at large. Sometimes it seems as though we are ashamed of the aging population in our communities, we try to ignore them and push them out of the public eye because they do not fit the ‘polished’ image that the community might be trying to build. There should be a paradigm shift in this regard. We need to look passed the perceived frailty of our senior citizens and appreciate them for who they are, and more importantly, give value and honor to the person within.  

-Karen Ahiaba