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Ageism: Tolerating Canada's Hidden Prejudice Is Getting Old

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Have you ever forgotten something and said, "I'm having a senior's moment"? Do you think you "can't teach an old dog new tricks"? When you see someone walking slowly, do you believe their thinking has slowed down, too?

If you've said or thought any of these things, you may be surprised to learn you're practicing "ageism" -- stereotyping or discriminating against people because of their age.

When I became CEO of Revera, a leading owner, operator and investor in the senior living sector, I had no idea that I was signing on to lead a social movement to combat ageism. But I was and remain confident that a key factor to achieving this is innovation.

Reflecting on Senior's Month this past June for many provinces in Canada, think back. Did you celebrate the seniors in your life? The sad reality is that instead of recognizing the tremendous contributions of older adults, we sometimes discriminate against them. That's what new research we conducted with the Sheridan Centre for Elder Research shows us.

According to our research, ageism is by far the most tolerated form of social prejudice in Canada, way ahead of racism and sexism. One in four of us actually admits to treating someone differently because of their age. And those are just the ones who are aware of their actions.

Even more concerning is that more than half of Canadians over the age of 77 say younger people assume they can't do things for themselves. More than a quarter of older adults 77 and older also say that because of their age, younger people make choices for them without asking what they want. Sure, helping out makes us feel good, but older adults say they feel controlled and annoyed when choices are made for them.

The reality is ageism is something we are all likely guilty of at one time or another, without even knowing it.

Think about it. As you get older, would you want people to make choices for you -- what you'll eat, what you'll wear, when you get go out, where you'll put your money? I don't think so. But it is happening more often than you might think.

The reality is ageism is something we are all likely guilty of at one time or another, without even knowing it. This may be because our society tends to see aging as a slow period of decline. But what a lot of seniors would tell you is that aging is just another stage of our lives that can be rich with learning, opportunity and tremendous happiness.

So how can we innovate to tackle ageism?

At Revera, we see a real need to build better tools that will help seniors be more independent. That's why we've launched the Revera Innovators in Aging program, with $20 million set aside for investments over the next five years. These funds will help entrepreneurs bring promising innovations to life that will help seniors maintain their independence.

As part of the program, we're testing some innovative products -- like a wearable sensor that helps identify seniors at risk of falls, a device that improves blood flow to help wounds heal faster, and a mobile app that helps seniors stay connected to their loved ones and caregivers. Piloting these types of products with a large number of seniors will show whether they actually meet the needs and wants of today's older adults, and whether they'll help them be more independent.

Investing in these types of innovations now will not only help the seniors of today remain independent for longer, but all of us, because we're all getting older, every minute.

I know ageism isn't intentional. We think we're helping when we TALK LOUDER, or slower, or jump in to answer when someone asks our older relative a question.

But, what can you do to tackle ageism?

It sounds pretty simple, but ask! Ask an older adult if they want you do to something for them, rather than just jumping in - whether it's doing an errand or making a financial decision, never assume you know what they want. Previous research shows that when we feel more independent and in control, we not only live longer, we actually recover faster from health challenges and our days are happier.

Bringing the generations together is another great way to fight ageism. The simple act of spending time with someone from a different generation is a powerful way to keep prejudice from forming especially when you're young, which is exactly when most of our negative attitudes are formed.

I know ageism isn't intentional. We think we're helping when we TALK LOUDER, or slower, or jump in to answer when someone asks our older relative a question. But the reality is, you are not only taking away the rights of seniors, you are preventing them from acting on their desires to do what they want to do, when they want to do it, and having their own voice heard.

So, today I challenge you to take a stand and embrace this incredible opportunity for social change. Check your language and check your assumptions. No more being "over the hill" or calling someone a "grumpy old lady." And, if you're an older adult yourself, don't accept it when people do things you don't want them to do, or that limit you in some way; remember the important lessons you yourself gave younger generations, and stand up for what you want.

It is important for us all to stay open to innovation and finding new ways to help older adults maintain their independence because ultimately, ending ageism by encouraging choice and independence for seniors will benefit all of us, for years to come.

To find out more about how to combat ageism and to take an Age Aware self-assessment test, go to Age is More.

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