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Stereotypes and the Elderly

In American society, it seems that we treasure youth and either fear or are disappointed to reach old age. Our culture has a big influence on how the elderly are perceived has stereotyped this population, mostly seen through the media. Even in films, TV, books, and magazines old people are often portrayed as frail, weak, klutzy, or indecisive. We should look treat our elderly with respect for the fact that they are more associated with experience, knowledge, and wisdom than a younger population. Ageism describes this discrimination against the old due to misconceptions and ignorance.

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Every person has their own perceptions of seniors and growing old. As an individual grows up, those perceptions are influenced by family, friends, and any interactions with the elderly. But as this individual gets older, they become more influenced by the media and what other people are telling us. I believe that in my generation, we are becoming more naive about our elders and I see and hear about it all the time. One that I get a lot is their driving capabilities. People say all the time that old people can’t drive when, in fact, I see younger people getting in accidents more than our seniors.

They have been driving much longer than we have and maybe have more experienced skills in driving. Another view of the elderly is that old people are all the same. It’s very unfortunate that there seems to be no individualism and that they are portrayed as one entity. Not everyone ages exactly the same. There are people in our society that view old people basically as helpless children or victims, when this is mostly never the case. I have two grandparents that just turned 80 years old and they are still working jobs. While they think of retiring soon, they like having a job because it gives them something to do.

They are still independent and in pretty good health for their age. Obviously we lose mobility as we age, but most our health as seniors is depicted on how we treat our bodies when we are younger. While it is also true that some of the elderly lose their capability to care for themselves and end up in a nursing home, this isn’t true for everyone. Society characterizes older people as helpless and unable to make decisions for themselves anymore. While with the event of some extreme cases, such as with dementia or Alzheimer’s, this can hold some truth.

As a result, this comparison can be very insulting with most seniors. They are seen as not being able to make decisions for themselves and therefore need to be taken care of. I feel as though if I were to be cut out of the decision making process, I would feel alienated and disrespected. Growing old is inevitable and your body can’t withstand to break down eventually. I’ve seen first hand seniors that were probably in better health than my parents. Older people don’t want to have to rely on others to take care of them. People want to sustain their sense of self worth and independence.

Losing that makes people feel vulnerable and sensitive. Stereotypes of getting old also involves a decline in health, physical appearance, and happiness. In the book Health in the Later Years, there was a study done on the elderly’s perspective on aging. Most of their views were generally optimistic. More than half of the phone interviewees agreed with the statement “These are the best years of my life. ” (Ferrini, 2008) A lot of the older individuals that were interviewed had a very positive view on the current health status and how they lived their life.

This goes to show that most people in their later years aren’t disappointed about their status of being old. In fact, it was just the opposite. I think that ageism and the stereotype our society presents greatly affects the attitudes of the elderly towards themselves and each other. With all the different types of media around us, it doesn’t take much time to learn plenty about aging. Either seen as forgetful, cranky or decrepit, you have to think that these people are seeing the stereotype of themselves too. As older people watch TV, they are worsening their views of their own peer group.

Our society needs to understand that when people are being grouped together like this and discriminated against, it can effect them emotionally and sometimes gets taken to heart. I think that some older people may even believe their own stereotypes about them themselves and thus live up to it. This doesn’t help the situation and just continues the cycle of their stereotype. When our culture put these views upon society it affects how we act and treat that part of our population. The number of people aged 65 and older is rising everyday.

With the baby boomer population at hand, we need to better understand our elders. I’m sure there are a lot of people who never want to be “old” or be associated with “old people” and this can have an affect on their relationships with older people and therefore never understanding the truth behind old age. This is a meaningful exchange that gets ignored and so I believe continues to influence the minds of most Americans. I think we, especially the younger population, could learn a tremendous amount from our elderly but we are easily deceived by the media and how our society depicts the elderly population.

I think that our society fears old age and the effect it will have on our own bodies. I think the media and popular culture over emphasizes the vulnerability of older people and thus puts pressure on the younger population causing them to stereotype and discriminate against the old. I think we shouldn’t fear old age but embrace it. It’s an unavoidable part of life that our society needs to better understand. We can merely learn about individuals’ attitudes and beliefs toward aging by simply asking them. We need to communicate with older people and learn what it truly mean to grow old.

Without this, society just goes by what they hear out of the television or read in magazines. “Alex Comfort, another prominent gerontologist, asserts that ageism, like racism, needs to be met by information, contradiction, and when necessary, confrontation. ” (Ferrini, 2008) I completely agree with this statement and the fact that we as a society need to learn about the facts instead of these misconceptions or half-truths. In the book Health in the Later Years, Comfort also stated that “By ignoring an oppressed minority, which we are inevitably going to join, we do not realize that we are slashing our own tires. A great deal of Americans don’t realize this either. They think that this isn’t going to happen to them or they just ignore the fact that they are going to get old eventually. Ageism is a real problem in our society and needs to be addressed. Many of the myths that are depicted about the elderly can be contradicted with information and studies. We just need to take the time to really look at the aging process and how we can better appreciate the later years.

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