‘Change how people think, feel, and act towards age and ageing’

AGEISM has been costing societies billions of dollars, according to a recent World Health Organization (WHO) report.

According to the WHO’s global report on ageism, in the United States of America a 2020 study showed that ageism in the form of negative age stereotypes and self-perceptions led to excess annual costs of US$63 billion for the eight most expensive health conditions. This amounts to US$1 in every US$7 spent on these conditions for all Americans over the age of 60 for one year.

At the same time, the report said estimates in Australia suggest that if five per cent more people aged 55 or older were employed, there would be a positive impact of AUD$48 billion on the national economy annually. It said, however, that there are currently limited data and information on the economic costs of ageism and more research is needed to better understand its economic impact, particularly in low- and middle-income countries.

“Ageism harms everyone – old and young. But often, it is so widespread and accepted – in our attitudes and in policies, laws, and institutions – that we do not even recognise its detrimental effect on our dignity and rights,” said Michelle Bachelet, United Nations high commissioner for human rights. “We need to fight ageism head-on, as a deep-rooted human rights violation.”

Combatting ageism

The report noted that policies and laws that address ageism, educational activities that enhance empathy and dispel misconceptions, and intergenerational activities that reduce prejudice all help decrease ageism.

All countries and stakeholders are encouraged by the WHO to use evidence-based strategies, improve data collection and research and work together to build a movement to change how people think, feel, and act towards age and ageing, and to advance progress on the UN Decade of Healthy Ageing.

The Global report on ageism compiles the best evidence on the scale, the impact and the determinants of ageism, effective strategies to tackle the problem, and recommendations for action to create a world fit for all ages.

The report is directed at policymakers, practitioners, researchers, development agencies, and members of the private sector and civil society, with the hope that they will help to bring about positive changes.

Ageism arises when age is used to categorise and divide people in ways that lead to harm, disadvantage, and injustice. It can take many forms, including prejudicial attitudes, discriminatory acts, and institutional policies and practices that perpetuate stereotypical beliefs.

The report said ageism influences health through three pathways: psychological, behavioural and physiological.

* Psychologically – negative age stereotypes can exacerbate stress;

* Behaviourally – negative self-perceptions of ageing predict worse health behaviour, such as non-compliance with prescribed medications; and

* Physiologically – negative age stereotypes predict detrimental brain changes decades later, including the accumulation of plaques and tangles as well as reduction in the size of the hippocampus.

According to the WHO, prevalence figures based on a survey of 83,034 people in 57 countries found one in every two people held moderately or highly ageist attitude

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