Don’t make assumptions based solely on a person’s age
As I was doing some research about important aspects to promote healthy aging, I suddenly became aware of people’s comments on ageism.
What is ageism? It can be defined as having prejudice or discrimination against a person or persons solely on the basis of their age. Although I am very aware of the reality of ageism and the fact that it does exist, I can’t help but think about why ageism is so widespread. The more I thought about it the more I began to realize that many assumptions come with aging – assumptions are beliefs that are based on guesses and not on what is reality.
Picture a person of an older age, perhaps in their early 80s and let’s say this person appears confused. As soon as confusion is seen, the assumption is often made that a person has some form of dementia, perhaps Alzheimer’s disease. Maybe through our life we have only ever encountered confusion from people who are living with dementia, so we draw from those experiences only. But if we take time to gather more information about that person, and then interpret and evaluate that information, then we can have a better view of that person and their actions, and we can act more appropriately with them. And on many occasions, we might prove our initial assumptions to be wrong. Why is the person acting confused? What have they been doing recently? Has this happened to them before?
Perhaps we would find out that they had just finished running the Cross Border Challenge and did not keep themselves hydrated well enough. Perhaps they had just started taking a new type of medication and were having an odd reaction to it, or maybe they have an infection and are behaving differently due to a fever.
Assumption can set up barriers to seeing the situation as it really is, which can often lead to upsetting situations. What if, from a perhaps unreal assumption, a conclusion was made that the person was not capable of making their own decisions anymore? I have witnessed people believing that an older person can no longer have a say in their own life, solely because of their age; or because of a mistaken perception that they are not capable of making their own decisions about their own life anymore. Losing this independence needlessly would be devastating for anyone.
We make assumptions every day when observing or interacting with other people. When we use only the information that is quickly available, such as age, gender, language, race, clothing, walking aids, and so on, many prejudices can quickly form in our minds. We can make the mistake of thinking that if people are like us, they will most likely have similar beliefs; however, most times that would not be the case.
I firmly believe we all need to fight assumptions that we take for granted as being the truth. If we do not challenge ourselves and how we think about many things, then we run the risk of negatively affecting our interactions with others. We need to focus a lot on challenging our assumptions when we are in a crunch, or need to make decisions quickly, because it is during these times that we can easily make decisions based on just what we think we see. We need to think seriously about what our values and beliefs are regarding aging and shouldn’t assume that every person is the same. We definitely need to ensure we do not make decisions based on beliefs about age alone because just assuming something, without actually knowing a situation, can cause a lot of grief for everyone involved.
We all need to understand that getting older does not mean we will lose all mental alertness and independence. Many older adults report they are happy and have more time than ever before to enjoy life. Many older adults live life actively, thereby reducing feelings of loneliness; and that serves to have a positive impact on their health as well.
So just because a person is older, don’t make any unfounded assumptions or attempt to decrease their independence, unless it is proven to be needed. Older adults learn and do new things all of the time – just look around and you’ll see some amazing older people doing some great things.
Patricia Harrington is executive director at Westford Nursing Home in Port Elgin. She believes it is important to share information on everyday concerns as we age and enjoys promoting these important aspects that will help our older population in aging well. She can be reached by email at executivedirec[email protected]fordnursinghome.com or by phone at 506-538-1301.