Ageism is a concept that. when I was younger, I heard the word “ageism” and had a vague concept of what it was. As I’ve gotten older, the concept has gotten clearer. The World Health Organization defines ageism as the stereotyping, prejudice and discrimination against people on the basis of their age. It says it’s the most socially normalized of all forms of discrimination – unlike sexism and racism.

I, now understand the concept better. I on occasion, sometimes feel like I experience. There are times where I will forget some small piece of information that was relayed to me shortly before. There are also times I miss a turn, when driving or don’t immediately understand what someone is asking me or misconstrue it.

When I was younger, people near me understood that those things happen to everyone at times. Now, depending on the people who happen to be around me, they might be quick to think that my small mistakes were of concern. When I sense that someone reacts in an ageist manner, I feel embarrassment and sometimes doubt myself. Part of the reason is that my brother (20 years my senior) developed severe dementia for the last 7 or 8 years of his life. He passed away at the age of 78. I question myself and wonder if I’m fated to follow him in that way. I then have to remind myself that neither of my parents developed it. My dad also died when he was 78, he was fully lucid until then.

I think that when younger people react in a way that could be construed in a way that might seem ageist to some, they are not consciously being ageist, but rather, they are well-meaning and not conscious of how it can affect the subject. Perhaps a little more intentional sympathy would help.

These are examples of what I call “soft ageism”. “Hard ageism” would be more like intentional discrimination against older people, like thinking that they are just “too old” to do certain things. Ageism does exist, both the hard and soft version. They are both fairly prevalent in our culture. I think most people would agree that the hard version is more alarming and hurtful than the soft variety, but I fee that the soft version is much more present and it’s more accepted by society.

With all of that said, I would suggest that we all stop and contemplate our feelings and actions the next time we feel that someone is too old or incompetent when these minor slips occur. We tell ourselves that we have the person’s welfare in mind, but could it just be blind ageism on our part. So, the next time you have those feelings, just pause and ask yourself whether it’s really just concern or if it’s ageism on your part. I know that I’m going to try to do that. Will you?

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