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Australia holds inaugural Ageism Awareness Day

The first Australian Ageism Awareness Day was held on 1 October bringing a focus onto the existence of ageism and its effect on older people, as well as providing practical solutions to the community on how to tackle ageism in their everyday lives.

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The inaugural Ageism Awareness Day coincided with the United Nations International Day of Older Persons. [Source: Shutterstock]

This awareness day is an initiative of EveryAGE Counts, a national coalition and grassroots movement to end ageism, and backed by large advocacy groups and the aged care sector.

Ageism Awareness Day coincides with the United Nations' International Day of Older Persons to put a focus on discrimination that is affecting older people in Australia.

EveryAGE Counts Campaign Director, Marlene Krasovitsky, says there has been a lot more chatter about ageism over the last few years among the industry, but not the community, which is why the awareness day was so important to get up and running.

"What we are trying to achieve with Ageism Awareness Day it's all about building awareness about this pervasive and highly tolerated form of prejudice and discrimination. We really want to build that awareness so people can know it and name it, because then they are in a stronger position to act," explains Ms Krasovitsky.

"Years of research has shown us that the term ageism is not as well understood and known as other forms of prejudice and discrimination, and so that can mean that when people observe it or experience it they don't feel they really understand what they are seeing or what to do about it.

"Somehow, this form of prejudice or discrimination is perceived as less serious than other forms of prejudice and discrimination. Ageism does hurt and it has really serious impacts, like exclusion, marginalisation, and disempowerment."

In preparation for Ageism Awareness Day, EveryAGE Counts did research into ageism in Australia and found nearly half of all Australians over 50 have experienced ageism in the past year but only one in five of them took action.

The EAC Ageism Report also found that 52 percent of all Australians say they witnessed ageism in the past year and 82 percent of older Australians who experienced ageism did not take any action in response because they believed it was hard to prove (27 percent), didn't know how to respond (24 percent), were not sure if it was ageism (22 percent), or didn't know their options (9 percent).

Ms Krasovitsky says EveryAge Counts is looking forward to having this awareness day highlight ageism and educate people on how to respond to ageism through different strategies, like escalating complaints or teaching people how to start conversations that make a difference.

"[One of the] key things we are trying to do is start conversations around the country about ageism because ageism is such a highly tolerated form of prejudice and discrimination, it can be quite invisible," says Ms Krasovitsky.

"I think there has been more discussion and awareness about ageism in the last few years, but I am not sure it goes as broadly across the community as we might think. 

"We are certainly having those discussions in some of our sectors, whether healthcare or aged care or workplaces, but generally across the community, I am not sure it is as widespread and understood as we are hoping it will become.

"This is really an opportunity to shine a laser light focus on ageism and its impacts to the broadest possible community we can and that way we are hoping to start those conversations, have it on peoples radar, and slowly start shifting negative social norms of what it means to be older and get older and towards older people.

Ms Krasovitsky adds that this campaign is increasingly important as older people are living longer and healthy lives than before and could spend a third of their lives in this phase.

Robert Tickner, Co-Chair of EveryAge Counts and former Minister, says Ageism Awareness Day is an important initiative and it was good to see people and organisations around Australia having those conversations about ageism and its impacts.

"The proportion of the Australian population over 65 has doubled from 8 percent to 15 percent over the past 50 years. We can’t keep discriminating against a fifth of our population. We need to update our attitudes, structures, and practices," says Mr Tickner.

"Of course, the responsibility to act lies not just with those who experience ageism, but with everyone else. Discrimination and prejudice survive when we turn a blind eye or allow it to go unchallenged."

The National Ageing Research Institute (NARI) has released an age-positive language guide, Strategies for Combating Ageism through Age Positive Language Guide, for Ageism Awareness Day.

NARI Executive Director, Professor Briony Dow, says, "Like any form of prejudice and discrimination, ageism strongly impacts wellbeing.

"We know the health consequences of ageism can be far-reaching, including physical and mental illness, cognitive impairment, reduced longevity, poor quality of life and wellbeing, and denied access to healthcare and treatments."

NARI says that simple actions can be the strongest way to combat ageism, which is why they have created an age positive language guide to assist people in changing the narrative around ageing.

The practical guide shows examples of words, phrases and images that can portray older people in a better light and combat ageism.

To view the Strategies for Combating Ageism through Age Positive Language Guide, visit the NARI website.

The Older Persons Advocacy Network (OPAN) hosted an ageism webinar to mark the beginning of Ageism Awareness Day.

Manager Policy & Systemic Advocacy of OPAN, Samantha Edmonds says that ageism involves a lot of stereotypes about older people that result in discrimination that can come across through how people think, how they feel and how they act towards older people.

"Australians celebrate youth and often perceive ageing as a curse, and while we are not alone in sharing these attitudes, it has fostered a culture where ageism is pervasive. Ageism can take many forms and is so common and accepted that we don't think about it when we see it or engage in it," explains Ms Edmonds.

"During the COVID-19 pandemic, older people have experienced another entrenched form of ageism when their perceived increased susceptibility to the virus led to targeted responses designed to protect them.

"However, these responses led to more stigma and discrimination within the community and was exacerbated by media reporting simplified messages about older people being more likely to die or taking up hospital beds as though their lives are negotiable and expendable.

"Older people have told us they feel invisible and as if they no longer have autonomy, rights or a presence. Many of us complain about growing old, but so many do not enjoy the privilege and joy of ageing when it should be something we embrace and celebrate."

Ms Edmonds adds that ageism has negative impacts on older people's health and wellbeing, and are less likely to be willing to live or engage in healthy activities, have high stress levels and a shorter life span.

Minister for Older Australians and Aged Care Services, Richard Colbeck, and Minister for Health and Aged Care, Greg Hunt, has recognised the contributions of older Australians in their local communities for International Day of Older Persons.

"The value older Australians bring to communities across our nation is immeasurable," says Minister Hunt.

"From passing on family traditions and recipes, sharing words of wisdom to younger generations, or seeing the successes of the past come to life in the present, senior Australians across the country have made our nation what it is today."

Minister Colbeck holds the same sentiments, saying it is important that connections with older Australians are continuously strengthened as the country navigates the impacts of COVID-19.

"We know the impact COVID-19 has had across our nation – but it has been felt particularly by older and more vulnerable Australians," explains Minister Colbeck.

"As lockdowns continue across so many regions, it is more important than ever that we check in on those people we love most to ensure their physical and emotional needs are being met.

"Whether it’s a face-to-face visit, text message, a video chat or a phone call, I encourage everyone to check in regularly with all the senior Australians in our lives."

He also thanked the nation's workers in aged care who are assisting residents in aged care facilities across Australia during a difficult time.

To find out more about Ageism Awareness Day, visit the EveryAGE Counts website.

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