Taking a Stand Against Ageism – Shame on You Chevy!

Every year I look forward to watching the Super Bowl for great football and enjoying some of the extremely creative and humorous commercials in between breaks and half-time. This year, however, I was extremely put off by Chevy’s depiction of seniors and categorizing them as old, decrepit and hard of hearing. It was ageism at its best and I took to the topic in my April column in “PRIME/Seniors.” I hope you enjoy the article below!

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Take a Stand Against Ageism

The recent Super Bowl advertisement for the Chevrolet Cruze, which depicts a group of seniors watching television and having confusion over the content of a Chevy ad, stirred up quite a bit of anger amongst viewers due to its insulting and ageist implications. While some people have become comfortable with advertisements, birthday cards, and jokes that mock older adults, the stereotypes and assumptions that aging is equivalent to being weak or disabled are harmful and should not be tolerated.

Seniors these days live healthy, happy and vital lives. Take the seniors who frequent the Gary & Mary West Wellness Center in downtown San Diego, as an example. They participate in daily activities from Tai Chi classes to civic engagement forums to Facebook 101 classes and more. These seniors are active and living each day to the fullest.

The appearance of the Chevy advertisement is a sad reminder that ageism is still strongly prevalent in our society. According to a Duke University survey of individuals 60 and older, 84 percent of participants reported experiencing some form of ageism. The most common form of ageism, reported by 58 percent of the participants, was being told a joke that stereotypes and pokes fun at older people. Thirty one percent reported being ignored or not taken seriously due to their age.

In addition to being extremely hurtful and humiliating, expressions of ageism can have severely detrimental effects on the health and wellbeing of seniors. In a study conducted by Yale University Professor of Public Health Becca Levy, individuals 50 years and older who had positive self-perceptions of aging lived on average 7.5 years longer than individuals with negative self-perceptions of aging. The same study found positive attitudes on aging help boost mental health in seniors. Individuals exposed to more encouraging images and messages on aging experienced significantly better memory and balance, whereas individuals exposed to more negative stereotypes experienced more memory loss and feelings of worthlessness.

These shocking statistics reinforce the importance of taking a stand against ageism. As seniors, you have the opportunity to educate your friends, family and acquaintances on the harmful effects of what they might consider to be lighthearted or good-natured joking comments. When you hear terms such as “geezer,” “crotchety,” “granny,” or “senile,” tell the person who said it that the term is hurtful and stereotypical. This type of language is often rooted in a misunderstanding of the realities of aging. So many people assume that with aging automatically comes handicaps and frailty.

It is also important to speak out in your community when you see evidence of ageism. If you take offense to the headline of a journal article or the content of a news segment concerning an older person, write a complaint to the offending media outlet.

Ageism is a hurtful form of bias that affects everyone in society. Living a long full life is a privilege, therefore it is important to create a community that respects old age and continues to consider people as unique individuals even as they age, rather than marginalize them into negative stereotypes.

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