Ageism is stereotypes (thoughts), prejudice (feelings) or discrimination (actions) on the grounds of a person’s age. Ageism exists within institutions and communities, within interpersonal relationships, and can be self-directed.
To learn more about ageism and its different forms, read: What is ageism?
Ageism isn’t always easy to spot. As a general rule, if you feel you’re being treated differently based on your age, you may be experiencing ageism.
The following five signs are examples of how ageism can appear. We’ve also provided some tips on what you can do if you think you’re experiencing ageism.
Signs of ageism
1) You’re excluded from decisions that affect your life or facing barriers to involvement
For older adults, this may involve decisions about health care or living situations. You may notice that it’s not easy or straightforward to get around your community or get involved in your community or civic decision-making. You may notice that you aren’t being consulted or asked for your wishes.
2) You’re often sitting on the outskirts of the action at family gatherings and other social events
If you feel like you’re on the outside looking in, you could be experiencing interpersonal ageism. You may be left out of conversations, or conversations may be oversimplified or superficial in your presence.
3) At work, reference is made to your age and ability
You may notice that you seem to be excluded from specific projects or see favouritism in assigning high profile or lucrative projects, of you’re receiving differential treatment (e.g. exclusion from opportunities for social interaction); left out of idea generation, or assumptions may be made about your ability to learn a new program or procedure. Remember, there’s value in having many voices and perspectives at the table—you have something to offer.
4) You aren’t encouraged to go after opportunities at work or in the community
You may notice that you are repeatedly being passed over for a promotion, or are being excluded from training or career development opportunities. You may be asked often about any plans for retirement. In community and volunteer roles, you may not be encouraged to take on new responsibilities or might not be invited to decision-making tables.
5) You don’t think you can do certain things because of your age, or you attribute setbacks to age and assume they’re to be expected
You see being “Old” as a bad thing. You think life starts to decline, and you’ve missed the boat on activities you might have wanted to try.
What to do if you’re experiencing ageism
Ageism is a form of discrimination. Discrimination based on age is illegal and prohibited in Canada and Ageism in the workplace is a violation of your human rights. You don’t need to accept or put up with ageism. There are things you can do to deal with it and to help improve the situation for others.
If you’re dealing with ageism in interpersonal relationships:
- If it feels safe to do so, consider “calling in” the person or people being ageist. You can say, “I’m feeling like decisions involving my life are made without my input. I’d like to have more involvement in the decision-making.” Or, “I’ve noticed that the conversations seem to change when I come into the room. I’d be interested in being part of your discussions about life and current events.”
- Consider whether you are hanging back in family and social situations. Try to involve yourself in conversations. Ask questions and show interest.
- It can help to have someone you trust to confide in who is further removed from the relationships where you’re experiencing ageism. It could be another family member, a friend, or even a social worker or other mental health professional. It can help to discuss the situation and different ways to handle it. This person can also support you if further action is needed.
- If you feel you’re being taken advantage of, for example, if you notice money missing from your bank account or are being asked to lend money, you may be experiencing elder abuse. Financial elder abuse is the most common form of elder abuse in Canada. You can speak to your doctor or call local law enforcement. You can find local services by visiting 211.ca and selecting your province or territory or calling 211 from your phone. Provinces and territories also have services to support older adults.
- Alberta: Senior’s Abuse Support Line at 780-454-8888
- BC: Seniors Abuse and Information Line at 1-866-437-1940
- Manitoba: Seniors’ Abuse Support Line 1-888-896-7183
- New Brunswick: Chimo Helpline 1-800-667-5005
- Newfoundland and Labrador: Newfoundland and Labrador Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse 1-800-563-5599
- Northwest Territories: Senior Info Line 1-800-661-0878
- Nova Scotia: call 211
- Nunavut: Elders Support Phone Line at 1-866-684-5056
- Ontario: Seniors Safety Line at 1-866-299-1011 for support for referrals
- PEI: Island Help Line 1-800-218-2885
- Quebec: Seniors Help Line 1-888-489-2287
- Saskatchewan: Seniors Information Line 1-888-823-2211
- Yukon: Seniors’ Services/Adult Protection Unit 1-800-661-0408 (ext. 3946)
If you’re dealing with ageism at work:
- If it feels safe to do so, consider “calling in” the person who is being ageist. Often ageism is implicit, meaning people don’t realize they’re doing it. It’s ingrained in our culture. And so, it can help to point it out when you see it. You can say something like, “I’m surprised to hear you say that. It sounds like you’re suggesting I can’t do this project/learn this new software program because of my age.”
- Speak to your supervisor (if appropriate) or HR about your experience.
- Suggest that ageism be included in workplace Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) training and programs and shared diversity, equity and inclusion commitments.
- If the ageism involves exclusion from opportunities or you perceive you’re being laid off or encouraged to retire because of your age, you may want to contact a lawyer to discuss your situation.
If you’re dealing with ageism in health care:
- Ask questions about your treatment options. Do your own research.
- Be willing to get a second or third opinion.
- Consider bringing someone with you to appointments to provide support and take notes.
If you’re dealing with internal ageist beliefs:
- Don’t be too hard on yourself! We’re surrounded by ageist beliefs in society about the limitations of aging and so it’s to be expected that you may internalize those beliefs. Recognizing it is the first step.
- Whenever you notice yourself thinking you can’t do things, remind yourself that the limitations you feel are at least in part socially constructed. Practice reframing and coming up with alternatives.
- If you need help modifying an activity or finding something to replace an activity you used to do, ask a trusted friend or family member to help you come up with ideas.
- Think back to different times in life when you developed new skills. Remind yourself what you’re capable of.
- Remember, learning and skill-building support brain health, so set achievable goals for yourself and keep moving forward. You absolutely can learn and grow at any point in life.
Ageism has been called the most socially accepted prejudice. It will take all of us working together to change that – to expose the hidden ageism that exists and to create a more inclusive and age-friendly society.
Preventing and addressing ageism is embedded in our advocacy work at RTOERO and is a focus of the RTOERO Foundation.