June 22

Linking Ageism and Elder Abuse

By Rick Banas of Gardant Management Solutions

What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think of an older person?

Do you think of someone who is active, living life with purpose, a vibrant member of society? Or do you think of someone who is frail, disabled, well over-the-hill? Someone leeching on society.

This is a question asked during a presentation last week on the “Link between Ageism and Elder Abuse.” The presentation was quite timely as just days earlier we observed World Elder Abuse Awareness Day.

Dr. Rose Joudi gave the presentation to the North American Collaborative to End Ageism. Dr. Joudi is an Aging and Ethnic Diversity Consultant, Certified Professional Consultant on Aging, and Adviser to the Ministry of Seniors and Housing in Alberta, Canada,

She defines ageism as “discriminating against a group of people solely because of their age.” As such, “ageism can be experienced by people of any age”, but notes “bias against older adults is particularly prevalent. “

She says “elder abuse is a by-product of ageism.”

“When you assign lesser value to certain people because of their age and you promote negative attitudes, you open the doors to mistreatment and discrimination.”

“When stereotypes that describe older adults as frail, not of value anymore, and a burden on society are the social norm, you validate under funding and under supporting programs and services geared toward enhancing the quality of life.” Older adults become “viewed as dispensable” and, you “create societal tolerance for mistreatment.”

The impact on older adults is tremendous and includes shorter lifespans, poorer physical and mental health and quality of life, slower recovery times from illnesses and injuries, and increased social isolation.

As Dr. Joudi noted in her presentation, ageism around the world is an “ism” that largely goes unrecognized and unchallenged yet is very prevalent.

For instance, a World Health Organization (WHO) Global Report on Ageism published in March 2021 indicated that globally one in every two individuals are ageist against older people.


Joudi cites three layers of ageism:

            “Thoughts:      How we think about older adults”, and “what stereo types come to mind.”

            “Feelings:        How we feel about older adults and about aging.”

            “Behavior:       How we treat older adults.”

Elder abuse can take make different forms, from physical, emotional, psychological, and sexual abuse, to neglect and financial exploitation.

COVID has exasperated the problem, with the rates of elder abuse having increased. There also have been changes to the types of elder abuse being reported. Prior to COVID, financial abuse and exploitation ranked at the top of the list. With COVID, a 2022 WHO survey indicates psychological abuse has moved into the top spot.

Among what we need, says Joudi, are “better laws and policies that protect human rights and address age discrimination, diversity, equity, belonging, and inclusion; better educational opportunities that enable older adults to transmit knowledge and skills; and more intergenerational opportunities designed to connect individuals of different generations.”

We also need to “empower older adults to change the way they think about themselves and about aging” and to “educate society, health care professionals, employers, and employees on the impacts of ageism.”

If you would like to discuss your thoughts on ageism and elder abuse with Dr. Joudi, you can connect with her on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/dr-rose-joudi-ph-d-psych/ or via e-mail at agingyyc@gmail.com

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