Ageism discussion starter

cartoon: old man says "I'm not older! Child says "I'm older!"
Ageism discussion: do you deny or confess or own your age?

Discussing ageism: start with yourself

Our attitude towards old age is a predictor of how happy and healthy we will be in old age. We are mostly unconscious of our own ageist attitudes, which tend to become self-fulfilling prophecies. That’s why it’s a good idea to identify our own assumptions about old age and replace them with realistic optimism and an open mind.

Ageism is stereotyping: prejudice and discrimination against people based their age. “It is the last socially sanctioned prejudice.” (Ashton Applewhite.) It affects young as well as old. Ageism is a human rights issue. Ageism (structural, social or personal) can have serious consequences including harassment, abuse, fraud, and mental illness. We experience ageism whenever someone (including ourselves) assumes that we are too old for something—an adventure, a job, a love affair, a change.

We will all be old one day—if we are lucky. So to dismiss old people as irrelevant (or worse) is a form of self-hatred. Positive stereotyping is not necessarily helpful either: not all old people are founts of wisdom. We’re all individuals, doing our best, like you.

Our personal fear or denial of old age has many causes, for example, the following.

  • Outside pressure from social, economic and cultural factors (real and huge)
  • Our inability to imagine being 10 0r 15 years older than we are (also real and huge)
  • Our misunderstanding about how old people feel about their lives (many are enjoying life, even though their lives may not look like fun to you)
  • Our assumption that old age is horrible by definition (things have changed in the last 20 years!)
  • Our assumption that there’s nothing we can do to change it anyway (research says we certainly can)

Are you ageist? 10 questions

“No, of course not!” you say. Hang on—this is important, so why not take a second look, with an open mind?

  1. What does the word old mean or imply to you? How do you use this word?
  2. What do these phrases mean: “I don’t feel old” and “You don’t look old”?
  3. How many more years do you expect to live, based on facts and statistics?
  4. How do you imagine yourself in old age?
  5. How do you want to spend those years?
  6. How do you look at groups of strangers who appear old?
  7. Do you think of old people (apart from those you know) as “other”, different from yourself?
  8. What are you looking forward to in the next ten years?
  9. What can you do right now to make your future old age happier?
  10. Take any generalisation about old people: “Old people are all…” Would you use this expression if it referred to women or people of colour instead?

(This ageism discussion starter is for a Meet-Up group, Almost Old in Wellington. But you can use it too! See how you go with the 10 questions.)

25 thoughts on “Ageism discussion starter

  1. Dan Antion says:

    Those are interesting questions. I am in my mid-60s. I don’t really care if people consider that old or not. I am enjoying my life at the moment and I have enough interests to keep me busy for many years to come.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      I kind of figured that 🙂

  2. cedar51 says:

    I’m in my late 60s and because I live alone, not in my own home but rather private rental – I’m apparently somehow seen as “old” and “odd”. People my age apparently don’t live this way (btw once I owned a house). And that gives other people the rights to explain how I should live! It’s got tiring listening to their reasons – which make very little sense.

    I’m pretty happy with my lot, I’ve enough art materials and tools to keep me busy for a good many more years; I have a minor walking program that takes me away from the flat daily; I don’t have tiresome neighbours (there are just 2 flats here in a ROW); close to transport (oops that another oddness, I don’t have a vehicle) and I believe quite self-sufficient…

    Of course, there are days when I feel old, but then I look around at the people who are “explaining why I should xyz” and I see them as truly out of touch… but do I fit into Q.10 – I don’t think so…

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      I’m glad you find people’s reasons nonsensical or out of touch: that’s you rejecting ageism 🙂

  3. mimfilip says:

    I am 64 and still working, last year I let my dark highlights grow out and now I am a silver fox. I may be invisible to many but not to the ones who count.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Nor to yourself.

  4. Cathy Cade says:

    Old has always been around ten or fifteen years senior to me.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Exactly. Other! 🙃

  5. I chair a local charity that provides affordable housing for “older” people, that is over 60. Many of the trustees are far older than the people we support. My Mum, in her 80’s, used to go to “help out the oldies”. We are as old as we feel and as old as we want to be, so long as our health allows us to be!

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      That’s interesting,about the trustees. But by “old”, you mean? Tired, helpless?

  6. Old has many forms. Tired yes, helpless maybe, a state of mind, mental decline, physical decline. Just keep on keeping on!

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      If old means that, what word shall we use to mean chronologically old?

      1. “Later life” and we should LiveLaterLifeWell!

      2. Rachel McAlpine says:

        Agree with the motto. I’m too tired to change the vocab. I’m 80 so I’m old, my body is declining, and life is interesting, mostly fun and satisfying. Which is why I find it hard when people associate oldness with negative things. For me being old is fine. For now.

      3. I stole the Later Life from where I used to work, Methodist Homes for the Aged. We always tried to avoid the word ‘old’, and even gave up ‘Aged’. Whatever euphemism is used we still get old(er)!

      4. Rachel McAlpine says:


  7. Anonymous says:

    I’m 73. I may have a quarter of my life ahead of me. That’s a long time if one goes into ‘retirement’ mode at 65. I have now lots of opportunities to explore, as well as looking after two big gardens. One of the surprising things I’ve found is that I want younger people to take over. I love my life, my friends, my neighbours, my pets, my plants, birds, mornings, reading, writing and other things that are sometimes pushed to one side during the stresses of working for others.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Well said. That’s an interesting thought, about wanting younger people to take over: it means you’re invested in the present and the future.

  8. Elizabeth says:

    I read the most intriguing article this afternoon that the group of people who have kept up their exercise routine most faithfully during the pandemic in the US have been ones over 65. I loved reading that. I have kept working out in the gym I created in my basement in March since my gym closed. I am stronger at 73 than I was at 53. I am old and I enjoy being old. I especially like talking about the past with my grandchildren. It reminds me of my grandparents talking to me.

  9. Joared says:

    Being considered old has never been an issue for me as has always seemed to be an expected aspect of life.— we’re born, we live, we die. The only time i used caution sharing my age was in employment circumstances, knowing how age discrimination was often a covert factor. I’ve seen aging all around me in everything all my life whether ir’s animals or plants. Even non-animate items — some that have aged are valued, others are not. What determines those differences? Can some of their criteria be applied to humans?

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Those are fascinating questions. What do you think?

  10. I love this post Rachel. Such good information. I’m 49 and my husband is about to turn 50. We are at the stage of life where our children are finishing college and our parents are in need of assistance. As I watch my parents grow older, I’m reminded more and more of how precious life is and how me must always take care of each other no matter how old we get.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      So glad to hear from you, Kathy. Yes, life is precious and life is (often) long.

  11. subversopus says:

    When I was 13 i never thought I’d make 25, when I was 25 I didn’t think i’d be 50. Now that I am almost 50 i’ve given up thinking. Now I just am. I’ve got this moment and nothing else.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Very cool! Way to be.

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