What is ageism? Why should we care?

Ageism. Ageism is stereotyping, prejudice and discrimination based on age. As with any identity-based prejudice, it works under the assumption that it is possible to judge someone knowing one thing about them – in this case, their age. Not only is it inaccurate, it’s damaging.

Ageism’s negative impact. Ageism has a detrimental impact on our quality of life, health and economy. Ageism happens at every level, from internalized ageism in individuals to ageism embedded in our systems and policies.

Aging has evolved. As lifespans increase, the perception of what constitutes old age is changing. Older adults are living longer and for the most part healthier lives, working and volunteering in greater numbers.

Changing ageist attitudes. Combating ageism is part of a bigger movement to stop dividing ourselves into “us” and “them.” Certain terms are often associated with – and reinforce – negative stereotypes about older people that result in stereotyping and discrimination. Our language and the stories we tell can make a difference in reducing ageism.

We need to change the world for older people. Let’s work together for a United Nations Convention on the Rights of Older Persons. Ours is an ageing world and the sooner we protect and promote the dignity and rights of our older people, the safer the world is for us all. We need to have rights protected for older people for the right for health care, for the right to have a safe life, the right to be protected from disaster, the right to be respected and valued, the right to accommodation…and so much more.

Want to help and educate yourself? Here are publications and links to the World Health Organization Toolkit to Help Combat Ageismhttps://www.who.int/publications/m/item/global-campaign-to-combat-ageism-toolkit

(Source: May 2022 edition of the Tri-Cities Seniors’ Action Society Staying Connected newsletter)

What is ageism, and how does it affect health?

Ageism is prejudice or discrimination against people based on their age. It typically applies to people who are older but can also affect young people. Ageism has a negative impact on physical and mental health, and reports link it with earlier death.

This information comes from the World Health Organization (WHO)Trusted Source.

Ageism is a systemic form of oppression, but unlike other causes of inequity, such as racism, sexism, or ableism, anyone can experience it. Although it is universal, people do not always take ageism as seriously as other forms of inequity.

Types of ageism 

There are many ways to categorize ageism. Terms that describe where ageism takes place include:

  • institutional ageism, which occurs when an institution perpetuates ageism through its actions and policies
  • interpersonal ageism, which occurs in social interactions
  • internalized ageism, which is when a person internalizes ageist beliefs and applies them to themselves
(Source: MEDICAL NEWS TODAY, https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/ageism)

Stopping Ageism

The WHO Trusted Source states there are three ways to combat ageism:

  • education to dispel myths and stereotypes and raise awareness of the impact of ageism
  • intergenerational interventions, which create cooperation and empathy between age groups
  • law and policy changes, which can reduce inequity and discrimination

These efforts require commitment from governments and institutions, as they hold the most power to create change. On an individual level, people can contribute to these efforts by being an ally. Allyship involves dedicating personal time and energy to taking action against ageism by:

  • Becoming aware of ageism: Reflect on how ageism shapes one’s own thoughts, feelings, and life experiences.
  • Learning about ageism: Learn how ageism affects others by listening to personal stories, reading books, and researching.
  • Developing skills: Learn about and practice advocacy skills, such as knowing when to speak up and when to step back.
  • Taking action: Put this knowledge into practice. Try correcting ageist stereotypes, challenging ageist jokes, or speaking out against ageist discrimination. Remember that this does not involve rescuing people, but supporting and advocating for them in situations where they are struggling to be heard.
(Source: MEDICAL NEWS TODAY, https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/ageism#impact)



Ageism is a systemic form of oppression against people of specific age groups. It affects older adults most severely but can also impact young people. It is based on prejudice, such as the idea that all older adults are unintelligent or uncooperative, or that young adults are not worth taking seriously.

Ageism is widespread in healthcare, which is especially harmful since older people are more likely to need medical care as they age. This leads to discrimination, lower quality care, and preventable illness and disability.

Because most people age, ageism is a form of inequity that affects everybody. Education, intergenerational understanding and cooperation, and policy change are necessary to end it.