Ageism is rife in Britain, with millennials holding the most negative attitudes towards ageing, according to a study. A quarter of millennials believe it is normal for older people to be unhappy and depressed, while 40% believe there is no way to escape dementia as you get older, research from the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) shows. Across all age groups, almost a third of people surveyed agreed with the statement “being lonely is just something that happens when people get old,” while two-thirds said they had no friends with an age gap of 30 years or more. “Ageist attitudes abound in society and have a major impact on the public’s health, and yet they are rarely treated with the seriousness they deserve,” said the RSPH chief executive, Shirley Cramer. “Too often ageist behaviour and language is trivialised, overlooked or even served up as the punchline to a joke – something we would rightly not tolerate with other forms of prejudice.” The study also found that half of the women and a quarter of men said they felt pressure to stay looking young.
The society called for a ban on the use of the term “anti-ageing” in the cosmetics and beauty industry. “If we can begin to remove the stubborn barriers that reinforce societal ageism, we can expect many more to look forward to later life as a period of opportunity for growth and new experiences, rather than a set of mental and physical challenges,” Cramer said. In partnership with the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, the study surveyed ageist attitudes across 12 areas of life, revealing that the public is most ageist about appearance, memory loss and participation in physical and community activities. Not all the findings were negative. More than two-thirds of the public (69%) agreed that “fundamentally, older people are no different from people of other ages.” The report also exposes stark differences in attitudes among people from different backgrounds: those from a black ethnic background had an attitude to ageing nearly three times more positive than the average.
According to the RSPH, negative attitudes about ageing can become “a self-fulfilling prophecy,” with previous research showing that those with such attitudes live seven and a half years less on average, experience increased memory loss, have a greater risk of depression and anxiety, a reduced ability to recover from illness, less interest in diet and exercise and a more negative body image. The RSPH called for the Independent Press Standards Organisation to include age in the editors’ code of practice to prevent discrimination. “The common media portrayal of older people blocking beds could be framed instead as ‘older people trapped in a hospital because they can’t afford the care they need when they go home’,” states the report, About That Age Old Question, for which 2,000 adults in the UK were surveyed. “We need realistic portrayals of ageing that overall reflect both the challenges and opportunities in later life.” The report recommends housing nurseries and care homes under the same roof. “Intergenerational contact and care offer huge benefits for the groups involved, but also to the facilities’ operators,” it says, adding that it could be an opportunity for local authorities and private providers to save costs “as well as offering genuine wellbeing benefits to ‘young’ and ‘old’ customers alike.”
Credit: Alexandra Topping for The Guardian, 8 June 2018.