Is the United States ageist?
PSYCHIATRIC VIEWS ON THE DAILY NEWS
Age has been more on my mind, probably due to my recent birthday and putting together the last group of psychiatrist eulogies.
The United States is not a country known for valuing and honoring the elderly for their wisdom. It is more youth-oriented, and seems even more so with the development of new computer technology, which often leaves our youth to teach the elders about how to use the technology.
In the Civil Rights time of the 1960s, ageism got some attention, especially by the Gray Panthers. However, although the Gray Panthers still exist, attention to ageism seems much less to me than racism, sexism, and the other isms. I am as guilty as anyone since I have ignored ageism in these columns.
One of the explanations for ageism is our tendency to have negative unconscious bias about the aged since childhood, sort of akin to that of racism.
Ageism has many negative repercussions, including work discrimination and health problems,taking years off of one’s life span. Countries where the elderly are valued, such as Japan, have what may be the world’s longest life spans.
While we have ageism, as the New Year Times article “Exploring the Health Effects of Ageism” discussed on April 23, we are discovering ways to age longer. If you have had more positive views of aging at age 50, you tend to live longer, with the most positive living 7 and a half years longer than the most negative, and tend to function better. Better psychological well-being had a greater impact than high cholesterol, high blood pressure, obesity, and smoking.
The negative stereotypes of the elderly can be decreased. Role models can be positively reinforced. Our last 2 Presidents, one from each political party, have been more elderly than usual, along with the Speaker of the House of Representatives, and many other members of Congress.
Over 5 centuries ago, the explorer Ponce de Leon was said to be trying to find the Fountain of Youth in Florida. Now we have finally found one of those fountains, but it is not a beverage, but a belief that bubbles over, a belief in the value of aging. Let’s call it the Attitude of Youth.
Dr Moffic is an award-winning psychiatrist who has specialized in the cultural and ethical aspects of psychiatry. A prolific writer and speaker, he received the one-time designation of Hero of Public Psychiatry from the Assembly of the American Psychiatric Association in 2002. He is an advocate for mental health issues relate to climate instability, burnout, Islamophobia, and anti-Semitism for a better world. He serves on the Editorial Board of Psychiatric Times™.
1. Span P. Exploring the health effects of ageism. The New York Times. April 23, 2022. Accessed May 9, 2022. https://www.nytimes.com/2022/04/23/health/ageism-levy-elderly.html