Fears about ageing prevent people from ageing well, but those fears are based on falsehoods, according to research released this week.
Launched at an event in Sydney yesterday, the research will inform a national long-term and multi-stakeholder advocacy campaign tackling ageism and its impacts.
Commissioned by The Benevolent Society, a not-for-profit organisation providing aged, disability and family support services, and undertaken by Urbis, The Drivers of Ageism aimed to discover what made people fear ageing and older people.
The Benevolent Society’s executive director of strategic engagement, research and advocacy, Dr Kirsty Nowlan said society incorrectly perceived older people as frail, less involved in life, confused and non-productive.
“Ageism is a problem in Australia but we can do something about it,” Dr Nowlan told Australian Ageing Agenda.
Ageism is based on a series of misconceptions and on a lack of understanding of fundamental things, she said.
“People assume that ageing involves a process of inevitable decline in both physical and cognitive health but 65 per cent of over 65s rate their health as good or excellent so there is a disconnect there,” Dr Nowlan said.
“The other element is that at the moment people are basing their perception of what ageing will be like on their individual experiences.”
If someone has seen a relative age well, they think ageing well is possible but if they have seen an uglier process they see ageing as a problem, she said.
“You add that with the media portrayal and lack of portrayal of older people with a public discourse, which is all about decay, decline and burden and you get a bad outcome.”
However, she said most of these bad outcomes were shiftable, with the findings indicating 80 per cent of people would like to see those norms moved.
Call for a commonwealth minister for seniors
To address the issue, The Benevolent Society is calling for “a radically different conversation about ageing” and gathering likeminded individuals and organisations to pursue the conversation together, Dr Nowlan said.
It is part of a major 10-year multi-stakeholder campaign the organisation is building called EveryAGE Counts, which aims to address the social and policy impacts of ageism.
“We’ll want to drive new conversations and a national agenda for older Australians, including a federal minister for older Australians,” she said.
The research study included focus groups of older and younger members, a national online survey of 1,400 people, a literature review on the drivers of ageist attitudes and an analysis of past social campaigns to drive attitude and behaviour change.
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