You may not have heard about this but the World Health Organization has called for a global campaign to combat ageism.
An editorial in the October issue of the Bulletin of the World Health Organization states that ageism has resulted in “marked health inequities” among older people. In fact, the WHO states, “There is little evidence to suggest that people today are experiencing older age in better health than previous generations.”
The WHO argues that changing public discourse around ageing, which largely depicts older people as burdens on public spending and economic growth, can help to capitalize on the great human capacity that older people represent.
The WHO conducted a “world values survey” of 83,034 adults from 57 countries in which 60 percent of participants reported that older adults are not well-respected. The survey found “ubiquitous” attitudes that older people are frail, out of touch, burdensome and dependent.
“Unlike other forms of discrimination, including sexism and racism, ageism is socially acceptable, strongly institutionalised, largely undetected and unchallenged,” says the WHO.
The absence of reporting about the WHO’s call to arms in the U.S. is yet another indicator of pervasive ageism here, where age discrimination is embedded into U.S. law and was adopted as an official policy of the Democratic administration of President Barack Obama
(FYI – The big story on the AARP’s web page today is “Movies for Grownups: ‘Deepwater Horizon’ Explodes with Action.” What are the chances that the AARP is getting a cut of this action? Isn’t it past the time for a membership revolt?)
The WHO says misconceptions, negative attitudes and assumptions about older people affect the allocation of health resources and data collection and represent “serious barriers” to developing good public policy on ageing. The WHO cites research showing that health care authorities provide older people with less screening, less preventative care and poorer management and treatment.
In addition to the negative external consequences of ageism, the WHO reports that many older adults internalize stereotyping and discrimination, which leads to negative health consequences.
The WHO says older people who suffer from internalized ageism make poorer recovery from disability and live on average 7.5 years less than people with positive attitudes on ageing.
According to the WHO, older people are not a drain on the economy and make significant contributions to society. For example, the organization notes, in a period of unprecedented population ageing in the United States of America (1940–1990) ageing contributed to around 2% of the increase in health expenditures, compared to 51% related to technology innovation in medical practice.
The WHO argues that societal attitudes will change, as the discourse changes: “Experience with sexism and racism has shown that changing social norms [to eliminate ageism] is possible and can result in more prosperous, equitable and healthier societies.”