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Don’t let ageism spread like a virus

Posted by Rosalie Radomski on July 13, 2020

The current COVID-19 pandemic has caused stigma towards various groups, including ageism towards older adults.

Often crises, like the one we’re in today, can bring out the best in us. During the pandemic, we saw surges of solidarity at the local level. We’ve witnessed individuals sewing masks, designing and producing face shields, and picking up groceries for their neighbours. Communities are respecting restrictive public health measures through these collective efforts.

But Covid-19 has also brought out the worst in people—hoarding toilet paper, throwing their gloves on the ground, blaming others for the virus, ignoring safety measures, and being downright awful. This pandemic is a fertile ground for ageism. This means that individuals are labelled, stereotyped, discriminated against, and treated unfairly because of their age.

The World Health Organization has expressed concerns about a strong trend towards stigmatization of older adults and intergenerational divisions since the beginning of the pandemic. Older adults are often portrayed as vulnerable, frail, helpless and unable to contribute to society.

To create an age-friendly world, we should understand why that is.

Causes

Several factors contribute to social stigma of older adults during the COVID-19 pandemic. For one, this is a new disease type for which there are still too many unknowns. People are afraid of the unknown. Associating such fear with older adults becomes easy because of the fact that several outbreaks took place in long-term care facilities. Secondly, government responses to the pandemic greatly affect the lives of many people. Many people question certain public health measures affecting the entire population, rather than strictly targeting older adults.

Impact

Ageism has consequences, especially during pandemics. It can cause isolation of seniors. This leads to more serious health problems for older individuals who do not want to be discriminated against. They may try to hide becoming infected with the virus. They may not even seek the care they need. The attached social stigma undermines the social cohesion required to fight this pandemic.

Join the Beautiful Struggle Against Ageism

You can fight age-related social stigma during the COVID-19 pandemic!

  • Words matter: Be aware of the weight of words. Avoid using terms that fuel stereotypes or suggest that older adults are all fragile and vulnerable.
  • Spread facts, not fake news:  Communicate information responsibly about virus transmission and treatments, or about public health measures. Fake news reinforces social stigma. Instead, share only evidence-based information on social media or with family and friends.
  • Remind people to stick together: A lack of social cohesion seriously undermines the effectiveness of public health measures. Our ability to weather these hard economic and social times depends on our capacity to unite.
  • Encourage intergenerational empathy: Share stories that humanize the experiences and struggles of people of all ages affected by the pandemic. Help emphasize the need to support one another.

Together, we can fight the pandemic and become stronger, united communities across Vancouver Island, within BC, and around the world.

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