Age-Phobia

Judith Davey

I have written several blogs on age discrimination, which often strikes on an individual basis – older people being passed over for jobs; being patronised as “lovey” and “dear” and generally being seen as a stereotype rather than as a mature and experienced individual.

What I am calling “age-phobia” is much more high level and generalised. One good example is a quote from the Sydney Morning Herald:

The ramifications (if ageing) could be serious as the elderly become an additional burden to the traditional scourges of poverty and disease. [1] –

How does it feel to be compared to malaria or the Ebola virus? I was hoping that this attitude had lessened since 2002. But, I wonder? Recently someone referred me to a recent TV programme with Nigel Latta. This was “Getting Old: The Retirement Bomb” (9 August, TV1) in the Nigel Latta Hard Facts series. So I duly signed on for TV on Demand and watched it on my lap-top (my TV not being “smart”). It began with Nigel Latta being made up to look like himself as a “really old” man of 70 (he is about 50 now). He recoiled in horror at the bald head, the straggly grey hair and the lined face – in truth the face was more like that of a 100 year- old than any 70-year-old I know. The message was; we don’t want to think about getting old because it is so horrific; we will become ugly and repellent. Then we saw old people lolling around in boats in the sunshine, enjoying a life of dependence on younger generations. But some of those interviewed were actually saying positive things about their lives. This was greeted with amazement by Latta and the children he co-opted to help his cause, probably prompted. To be fair, with the help of the Retirement Commissioner, he was making the point that younger people have to think about their old age and plan for it. But, in the course of this, I feel that he stoked up inter-generational competition, if not outright antagonism, saying how the baby boomers will suffer from the excessively generous policies enjoyed by older cohorts. Age-phobia? Do you agree?

I have just read a recent book by Ben Bova (a favourite science fiction writer of mine, now in his early eighties). It is called “Transhuman.” It is set in the USA and features a biochemist who develops a treatment to reduce cell ageing and to cure cancer. The FBI and even the US President, urged on by the Treasury, tries their best to block his work, to the extent of locking him and his colleagues up in a military base in the Arizona desert. This is because the innovation will allow everyone to live to 100, 120 or even 150. It will, according to the powers that be, “bankrupt America” in health services and health insurance costs. Of course the elite – selected people, including themselves- will benefit, but not the masses. The protagonist manages to escape and distributes his findings to numerous scientific publications, to my relief. I was expecting the FBI to assassinate him. It may be a feasible scenario based on age phobia and the assumption that old age inevitably brings with it dependence and disability.

Sure, there is a lot more acknowledgement these days of the opportunities inherent in an ageing population, and of the contribution which older people can make, economically and socially. But age phobia is not dead. It rears its head with every mention of demeaning words used for older people – wrinklies, grey-hairs, geezers, codgers, fossils and fogeys – even elderly comes with connotations of frailty and dependence. And the very worst that I have heard -“pre-dead”.

To watch the episode “Getting Old: The Retirement Bomb”, visit https://www.tvnz.co.nz/ondemand/the-hard-stuff-with-nigel-latta/09-08-2016/series-2-episode-2

[1] Jerome Socolovsky, Greying of humanity a threat to world budgets. Sydney Morning Herald, April 8, 2002.

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About Age Concern New Zealand 'on research'

At the heart of everything Age Concern does is a passion to see older people experience well-being, respect, dignity, and to be included and valued. We support, inform and advise older people on issues such as access to health care, transport, housing, financial entitlements, and social opportunities. We also work to combat real problems in our society, like elder abuse and neglect, chronic loneliness and social isolation. We provide specialist services with trained and qualified professionals able to give expert advice and assistance. Age Concern is a charity and relies on the support of volunteers and public donations to do much of the work we do. To help us help older people, please consider making a donation of your time or money. To see how, visit www.ageconcern.org.nz
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