Valuing older people: time for a global campaign to combat ageism
Today, for the first time in history, most people can expect to live into their sixties and beyond. By 2050, the world’s population aged 60 years and older is expected to double to nearly 2 billion people, 80% of whom will live in lowand middle-income countries. The health of older people is unfortunately not keeping up with increasing longevity. The World report on ageing and health highlights great diversity in health and functioning in older age and marked health inequities in this group. There is little evidence to suggest that people today are experiencing older age in better health than previous generations.
Pervasive misconceptions, negative attitudes and assumptions about older people are serious barriers to developing good public policy on ageing and health. Negative attitudes and stereotypes about older adults as frail, out of touch, burdensome or dependent are ubiquitous. A recent analysis carried out by the World Health Organization (WHO) using world values survey data of 83 034 adults from 57 countries found low respect for older adults. Sixty percent of participants reported that older adults are not well respected, with respondents from higher income countries being more likely to report so. Stereotyping and discrimination against individuals or groups on the basis of their age is called ageism. Unlike other forms of discrimination, including sexism and racism, ageism is socially acceptable, strongly institutionalised, largely undetected and unchallenged.
Ageism limits the questions that are asked and the way problems are conceptualized. Recent analysis suggests that ageism influences the development of global health policy and targets. The authors highlight that age limits placed on global goals to prevent and control noncommunicable diseases and the use of premature mortality thresholds, including in the sustainable development goals (SDGs), may be used to discriminate against older adults in the allocation of health resources and data collection.