It’s no secret our society implicitly places a higher value on the young.
While Gen Z and Millennials are praised for being dynamic and innovative, the elderly are encumbered by stereotypes that label them as old-fashioned and backwards in their ways—relics to be discarded after having served their purpose.
The elderly face many of the same ageist assumptions as their younger counterparts, namely regarding their capability relative to their age. However, while young people are showered with opportunities and care because they’re assumed to have years of productivity ahead of them, older adults are thought to have outlived their worth.
As a result of this mindset, many older people face mistreatment in our health care and social systems, stripping them of their self-determination and dignity and prematurely cutting off their opportunities for future growth and development.
Canada is becoming an increasingly hostile place for older people as they face significant risks of poverty and social isolation. As the cost of living rises, many will unfortunately find that taking care of an aging relative will be too expensive to take on.
Meanwhile, institutions such as nursing homes and geriatric care are severely under-supported, facing high rates of turnover and neglect. The COVID-19 pandemic further revealed exactly how little concern we afford the wellbeing of our seniors.
Our neglect toward the elderly contradicts the country’s demographic trends. A record number of Canadians retired last year, and by 2026, 2.4 million Canadians will require continuing care support as they grow old. As Canada’s population ages, we need to find ways to invest further in improving the quality of life for the elderly that don’t treat them as burdens.
We need to re-envision aging and retirement not as a time of stagnation, but as a life stage that can be as rich in experiences and is deserving of equal attention as youth.
Older people add value to their communities that extends far beyond their simple productive capacity. They possess wisdom, experience, and institutional knowledge few others have; resilience and resources that allow them to weather stress and unexpected situations; and skills they’ve honed over a lifetime they can put to use themselves or pass onto others.
They preserve important stories and aspects of our history, act as central community figures, and in the case of 2SLGBTQ+ elders or elders who are Black, Indigenous, or people of colour, symbolize possibilities for survival and endurance.
Most importantly, older individuals haven’t lost their passion for life simply because they’ve grown old. They can still pick up new skills, seek connections, and develop as people.
All of us will inevitably grow old one day. So, it’s worthwhile for young people to begin re-evaluating their relationship to the older adults around them, as well as consider the conditions in which we want to grow old.
Anne is a second-year Health Sciences student and one of The Journal’s Features Editors.
ageism, elder, long term care, old age, retirement
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