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We are all familiar with the birthday novelties making light of aging. Someone celebrating a landmark birthday is likely to get a fire extinguisher to put out their candles or black crepe paper implying that they are older than dirt. While there is humor in this and we can all make light of turning a year or decade older, we need to be careful about stereotyping. Ageism runs rampant in our society. It is considered to be the only remaining “socially acceptable” prejudice.

Several innocent examples come to mind. In the first example a foursome of vital athletic women in their eighties enjoyed a typical day of golf followed by a stop at a nearby mall while leaving their clubs in the trunk. The car was stolen. When they returned to look for their car they were perhaps more dismayed about losing the golf clubs as the car. The security guard was a bit dismissive of them stating that they probably just forgot where they parked as he gave their gray hair a once over. They let him know that they had memorized the parking lot number and had done a thorough search before contacting him. He finally called the police. In another situation a mother and daughter went out for a pleasant dinner. The mother has a beautiful head of gray hair as well. The wait staffer asked the daughter if she wanted to cut her mother’s meat for her. They both had a good laugh over this since the mother is sharp as a tack!

 

As innocent and humorous as this can be there are more serious issues related to Ageism. And it impacts treatment and caregiving situations. In many instances physicians and nurses will often speak to the caregiver children instead of speaking directly to their patient. Many stories abound of seniors being left in hospital hallways waiting to be seen. Make sure if you have an older loved one that they do not keep them in a holding area for a long period of time. It is not counted as a hospitalization until they are officially admitted. This can result in Medicare refusing to pay for rehab. Those of us in the aging services network are working hard to make policy changes at the federal level to become more senior friendly. And some hospitals are now creating senior friendly emergency rooms. However, there is much more that needs to be accomplished. If you observe Ageism in others be sure to make an intervention to educate them. Gray hair does not equal cognitive issues!