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Combatting Ageism in Stamford

Awareness of ageism trumps all solutions, according to the UN, but how important are mobility aids and social groups in combatting age discrimination?

Written by Alice Wibberley, Stamford High School (Y13)

Ageism can be defined as a negative stereotype, perception, or treatment of an older person – or anyone, due to their age. The most common and detrimental ageism is aimed at older people, and its impacts are wide and deep routed. The importance of locating solutions to this issue, which potentially affects 18% of our population, is therefore paramount, and just as important as tackling any other discrimination which prevails in the United Kingdom.

Although ageism can take the form of a negative comment or stereotype, one of the most debilitating issue is discrimination found in the environment surrounding us. Buildings without ramps, stairs without handrails, or even a heavy door can provide challenge for an older person, and many establishments, public and private, are simply not doing enough to prevent this discrimination. These problems are often solved, however, with the use of mobility aids. Problems associated with older age around the home can be alleviated with purchase of living aids, such as large buttoned telephones, days of the week clocks, or even something as simple as ergonomic crockery. Outside of the home, disabilities can be combated with hire or purchase of mobility scooters, wheelchairs, or simply a walking stick, but the problem comes with a national stigma surrounding mobility aids. Ageism can be self-inflicted – many older people see the use of aids as an acceptance of physical deterioration, disliking their design and often unfashionable styles. Design and innovation has helped massively to solve this – floral patterned walking sticks which can fold away into a handbag, and extra handle fittings to attach to a favourite mug have proved popular. A modern availability of fashionable and aesthetically pleasing living aids has dramatically reduced this stigma, in turn reducing the numbers of elderly people preventing themselves from enjoying the benefits of mobility aids.

Speaking to members of Stamford’s senior community at a UN Day of Older Persons event at Scotgate Mobility, I was not entirely unsurprised to find that the area had unusually low perceived levels of discrimination against older people. David England even hinted that as an avid mobility scooter-er, he had an advantage on Market day – whizzing through crowds to get the best bargains and avoiding car parking prices. ‘Scooters help people to get out’, he said, and it is true that for many seniors, isolation would prevail without mobility aid. David had spent over 50 years working in the nursing sector, looking after the elderly and mentally ill. He believes that things have massively improved and feels positive about the care system going forwards.

David also suggested that learning ways to get around problems is the best way to prevent discrimination – he advises an ambiguous ‘hello mate’, when a name escapes you, to prevent the appearance of forgetfulness. Dementia, which is generally attributed to the elderly population, impacts at least 42,000 people under the age of 65 in the United Kingdom alone – making up 5% of the total population afflicted with dementia. (alzheimers.org). The rigid link between old age and dementia is part of the problem – a national realisation that the ‘ailments of the old’ are not solely experienced by the over 65s will end embarrassment and the need for a ‘hello mate’ in place of admitting one’s forgetfulness (which people of all ages experience, after all).

Peter Hayes emphasised the importance of social groups in preventing loneliness and isolation which afflicts so many in their later years. 51% of all people over 75 in the UK live alone, and 3.9% of our older population name their television as their main company. (Age UK, 2014). Peter mentioned just a handful of the clubs and societies available for people in the local area (and globally), and told me that they were key in preventing loneliness and depression amongst old people. U3A and PROBUS are just two groups where older people can meet and become friends, participating in activities from history to gardening. It is this regular, social contact which has been found to have the greatest impact on preventing loneliness, as from it, new friendships are formed to replace those lost as one grows older.

Even though Stamford has the appearance of low levels of ageism (perhaps due to its large elderly population), the ageism that exists may instead just be accepted as a part of life by those who experience it. This is what groups such as the United Nations, age UK and Evergreen are working to change, and the first step of combatting ageism is universal awareness.

Alice Wibberley

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