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Combating Ageism: a challenge for all ages and all sectors

McDonald, T. A., 2016

IFA, 13th Global Conference on Ageing, Brisbane, Australia


Background: Ageism within families and societies is a key target area for prevention of all types of abuse and improving personal security. Widespread negative positioning of older adults is a manifestation of ageism where the actions of older people are interpreted in ways that undermine their personal identity and integrity and place them in financial, social and health jeopardy within family and social contexts. When negative positioning is normalised within a community or society the consequences for older adults lie in unemployment, homelessness, poverty, poor health and social isolation hiding the human rights violations that occur.

Issue and context: Health practitioners subscribing to these normalised interpretations can succumb to clinical decision-making influenced by prejudice. Employers and businesses with normalised ageist values can pressure skilled and experienced older adults out of employment, into inappropriate work, or set them up in competition with younger unskilled applicants. Similar bias can occur among providers of general and community services if the widespread practical disadvantage that accumulates within a society because of normalised ageism is not well understood.

Options and strategies: Increasing general understanding that some normalised behaviours are actually abusive and need to cease requires an awareness heightening strategy that carefully balances the risks of providing detailed examples of elder abuse with clear statements by leaders that such bigotry has to end. Governments, businesses and social leaders including the media are well positioned to lead the type of social change that has curtailed paedophilia and domestic violence in recent times. Widespread undermining of the rights and security of older adults is perpetrated by negative positioning arising from prejudice or competition for resources, and only if society's leaders act in a unified campaign will this situation be stopped.

Recommended action: A strategy for raising awareness of ageism and its consequences has been developed in Australia along with several reports on human rights and systematic abuse of older people's rights but translating this wisdom into outcomes for older adults is yet to occur. The Ministerial Advisory Committee on Ageing (NSW) has taken on this wicked problem and is working on policy frameworks, media strategies, business case development and supporting the prevention of elder abuse through training of front-line personnel who could identify instances of potential abuse and take effective action to support the person and reduce the threat of abuse. These strategies will be outlined in the presentation.

CITATION McDonald, T. & Greiner, K. (2016) Combating Ageism: a challenge for all ages and all sectors. International Federation on Ageing (IFA) 13th Global Conference on Ageing, Brisbane Convention & Exhibition Centre 21 – 23 June 2016


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