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Old age, p***ed off

Ageism: the last taboo

Ageing is still a taboo in our society. We held a debate about how we could take steps to collectively change this.

We launched an exciting new event series in May 2018 to bring together a wide range of people interested in the big issues related to ageing, to raise the debate and start talking about ageing in a productive way.

Ageism: the last taboo?

Our first event of the series, 'Ageism: the last taboo?', featured a panel of speakers:

And was chaired by our Chief Executive, Anna Dixon.

Watch the panellists highlight key areas of the debate
Vox pops for ageism last taboo event from panellists
Five things we took away from the discussion
  1. We need to re-think age brackets. We lump ‘older’ people together in a generic age bracket of 60-100. At first thought this seems okay, but we’re talking about a span of 40 years, during which significant changes occur. We simply don’t refer to 0-40 age range in the same way, as the stark differences between a baby and a person aged 40 are readily recognised. As our society is living longer, we’ve apparently gotten lazy and tacked the additional years on to an out-dated conception of how ‘old’ is labelled.
  2. When we think of ourselves and society in general, youth is idolised and ageing is seen as a decline. A blog by our Director of Evidence, Catherine Foot, looks at our tendency to be internally ageist, particularly when faced with getting older. Our panellists highlighted the urgent need to change the accepted narrative around ageing, from something that is inherently negative to something that should be celebrated. We absorb all of the negative language that is used in everyday life, which in turn reinforces our own internal ageism. The narrative needs to change to reflect the positives of longevity, to stop our default internal ageism.
  3. Start a pro-ageing campaign! Walk into any health and beauty shop on the high street and you’ll see hundreds of messages that tell you that ageing is b-a-d. Why can’t we take a different stance? Ageing is the most natural thing in the world; getting older is something we all want to do, right? And why can’t we look after our skin in the process, embracing our age, our wisdom and experience? It seemed to our panel (and live audience) that products should be marketed not as anti-ageing, but as pro-ageing. Again, we need a change of language. A small change could make a big difference.
  4. ‘Old’ is subjective. What you consider as 'old' is 10 or 20 years ahead of the age you are now, and this shifts as you get older. Think back to you, age 8. How much older did an 18 year-old seem, or a 28 year old seem? If you’ve reached those ages, did you honestly feel as old as you thought that age was?
  5. Role models. Don’t despair just yet; there are a lot of positive role models in later life, from Hollywood stars to sports people to community leaders. We see them all the time. The negative stereotype of an older person is currently much louder and stronger, but change will come.
Discussion highlights

We had an interesting and lively debate, discussing questions posed from the live audience in the room, via Twitter and sent to us in advance. Watch our discussion highlights:

Panel video
We asked the audience: what words do you associate with these images?
Word cloud of older woman
And finally...

here is one change each of our speakers would like to see that they think would make the most difference:

  • Sophie: Funding for fun! I’d like to see more funding for activities for people in later life, in the same way that there is funding for activities for young people.
  • Hannah: Eradicate ‘anti-ageing’. It’s the wrong term and should be something positive to celebrate.
  • Justine: The Advertising Standards Authority has power to change. The more reporting that we do to the ASA, the more this change can be informed.
Ellie Gotay
Events Officer