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the silent discrimination against the elderly and its impacts

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By Karyne Santiago

On 09.13.21

Human aging is an indisputable fact. However, the stigmatized image created around some myths about old age has negative impacts on the lives of older people. To better understand the “pre” concepts related to the elderly, called ageism, and how to deconstruct them, psychologists Rebeka Nascimento dos Santos (CRP 05/58097) and Lillian Furlan de Melo (CRP 08/28301) explain this social issue so relevant. Check it out below!

what is ageism

According to psychologist Rebeka, the term ageism, created by psychiatrist Robert Neil Butler, refers to “the stereotyped image of the elderly and discrimination against older people”. The professional explains that the concept covers all forms of prejudice that involve aging, the mistaken view that exists around old age. In turn, the psychologist Lilian states that “ageism can be understood as negative actions related to age in general, however, the most common practice evidenced is against the elderly”.

Rebeka also says that “there is a discriminatory view of the elderly, who sees them as an individual with gray hair, difficulty walking, health problems and reduced productive capacity”, and consequently this stereotype ends up segregating the elderly population from other people.

Another relevant issue to be brought up on the agenda is the impacts caused to women by age discrimination. “Obviously ageism affects men and women, but unfortunately, due to issues already known in relation to gender and standards of beauty, the weight of prejudice for the female audience seems to be even greater, according to researches”, says psychologist Rebeka. Both professionals emphasize the breaking of this stereotype, reinforcing its deconstruction, since “gender, race, religion, culture, social class or age do not define an individual”, says Rebeka.

examples of ageism

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Age prejudice happens in different ways, after all, as previously said by psychologists, there is a distorted belief in relation to aging that segregates and limits older people. The following cases of discrimination exemplify how ageism can happen and raise important reflections on the subject.

  • “Sex and the city” actresses: in mid-2021, after the announcement of the return of the cast of “Sex and the city” to the small screens, actress Sarah Jessica Parker, who plays “Carrie Bradshaw” and actresses Kristin Davis (Charlotte York) and Cynthia Nixon (Miranda Hobbes) have been bombarded with criticism from the media and the public regarding their appearance. “Ageism is everywhere, from the famous to the unknown. The series’ actresses have been criticized for getting older. It seems that no one remembers that we will all grow old one day”, points out psychologist Rebeka, who continues: “this is what prejudice does, it devalues ​​people’s effort, talent, skills and abilities just because they are older”.
  • Madonna: another famous case of this discrimination happened with the singer Madonna, when she released the video for the single “Medellín” with singer Maluma, in 2019, at the age of 60. Criticism directed at the artist, who kept the style characteristic of his career in the new album, insinuated that the music and video did not correspond to his age. With that, Rebeka explains that this is a characteristic of this type of prejudice. “Other people think that because of their age, older people cannot do certain things, such as dressing in the right way, having romantic relationships, expressing themselves as they wish, and this is not true”, adds the professional.

Although both cases are of famous people, make no mistake, ageism happens constantly in the daily lives of common people, at home, in the job market or in public places, and this consequently generates relevant impacts on the lives of older people.

The causes and consequences of ageism

As is known, any kind of prejudice impacts the victims’ lives, and ageism is no different. See below what the psychologists pointed out about the causes and consequences related to ageism.

The causes

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The way in which human existence is seen and we experience life, and the daily advances in different areas of knowledge, contaminate concepts related to aging. Lilian and Rebeka explain this, highlighting some of the main causes of ageism. See below:

  • Extreme valuing of youth, which according to Rebeka “is often seen as the best stage in life, and reinforces the belief that older people cannot act in a certain way or do certain things”;
  • Great discrepancy in the way of life between different generations, according to Lilian, which are divided into two points: the increase in life expectancy, thanks to medical advances, and the constant updating of technology, and its valorization in contemporary life;
  • The erroneous stereotype of the sick, frail, debilitated, dependent, unproductive and incapable elderly person who, according to both professionals, segregates and limits the elderly population;

Its consequences

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As is well known, every cause has a consequence. The impacts generated in the lives of older people, due to prejudice, result in consequences that were also addressed by psychologists. Check out:

  • Social isolation, which according to Rebeka can occur “from the elderly to other people, and from people to the elderly”.
  • Loss of self-esteem, which occurs as a direct consequence of valuing youth and the stereotype in relation to aging.
  • Decrease in cognitive capacity, which according to psychologist Lilian “occurs due to infantilized, paternalistic treatments, simplistic speeches, slow speech, of poor quality, which reduce the subject to a single factor in its composition, age”.
  • Depression, due to isolation and the feeling of loneliness, incapacity and loss of autonomy.

Both professionals point out that there needs to be a transformation in the way society sees aging. “When we talk about diversity, we’re not just talking to this or that minority, we’re talking about all those who experience prejudice on a daily basis and are affected by it, and that includes the elderly,” says Rebeka.

Ageism in Brazil

According to several surveys, the growth of the elderly population in Brazil is growing faster every day. The World Health Organization (WHO), for example, states that in about a few years, Brazil will be the sixth country with the largest number of people over 60 years of age. However, as the elderly population increases, social investments for this population seem to stagnate.

According to Lilian, “in Brazil, there is no investment in any considerable field to build a society in which the majority will be aged”. The psychologist also points out another survey, carried out by the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE), which states that in 2060, around 25% of the Brazilian population will be made up of elderly people.

Psychologist Rebeka also points out that, despite the laws prescribed in the Elderly Statute, the general population seems to be unaware of their rights and duties in relation to the subject, which ends up reinforcing even more age prejudice. “It is necessary to disseminate information about aging, methods of inclusion for this population, a social deconstruction of the stigmas of old age, and certainly more inspection and punishment in the face of prejudiced acts”, says the professional.

Ageism and the law

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Both professionals claim that discrimination against the elderly is a crime and punishable. Pursuant to article 96 of the Elderly Statute, prescribed under Law No. 10,741, of October 1, 2003, discrimination based on age, with acts of humiliation, contempt, contempt, intimidation, or impediment and difficulty in accessing banking operations , means of transport, among other things, constitutes a crime with a penalty of imprisonment from 6 months to 1 year and a fine.

Rebeka also emphasizes that “to report, the victim or other people who witness the discriminatory acts, can contact the municipal councils for the elderly in each municipality, or file a police report.” In addition, for more information and clarification of doubts, it is also worth contacting the Municipal Secretariat for Human Rights and Citizenship in the region in which you are located.

Furthermore, it is necessary to understand that aging is not a stigma or a doctrine. Getting old doesn’t mean losing your life purpose, or having to stop being who you always were because of age. Aging is a natural event in the life of all human beings, and it deserves to be lived in the best way, deconstructing many taboos… For this, how about giving a “go there” in low self-esteem and strengthening your self-confidence and self-esteem?


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