Why We Need to Stop Talking Down to Older People

I am ashamed to say that, until last year, discrimination towards older people was something that I hadn’t really put much thought into. It wasn’t something that really affected me personally, as a woman approaching her thirties, and I just really didn’t have much experience of it directly.

Then, whilst away in Somerset with my family, I happened to come across an older gentleman who had fallen off the pavement and had badly cut his hand and head. Ed and I sat with him whilst an ambulance came, but after speaking to the man and realising he had no nearby family, and no phone on him to contact them, I decided to go with him to the hospital and stay by his side whilst he was treated.

It was during this time that I really saw first hand how older people are treated in everyday situations. The ambulance staff, upon learning that I would be accompanying him, decided to pretty much ignore the man and instead talk to me. I was appalled to hear them making remarks about the gentleman in his presence, clearly having clocked his hearing aid and assuming that due to his impaired hearing and advanced age, he would either not hear or not be affected by their comments. I held the man’s hand and wished that I had the strength to say something to them about the way they were potentially making an already scared and injured man feel.

At the hospital, staff continued to talk to me and not the man himself. Even after I explained the situation, and that I was a perfect stranger, they still preferred to converse with a younger woman than a man in his nineties. After he had his injuries glued, and he was ready to be discharged, the hospital became very concerned about the man’s living situation, whether he had any care, whether he had family and if he would be able to look after his wounds. They were talking about him staying, but the man made it clear to me and to them that this wasn’t something he wanted to do, having lived on his own for many years, following the death of his wife.

He was adamant he didn’t want to stay, so I helped reassure the staff that he would be ok. As somebody who suffers from anxiety, and claustrophobia and hating hospitals myself, it was truly scary how this man’s age on its own seemed to be reason enough to ignore his wishes, and that it was only when I stepped in that they stopped insisting upon it.

I stayed with the man until he was back home, and his nephews had come to visit him. My time with the man had a huge impact on me, and the unfairness of the way he was treated stayed with me and resulted in me taking on a job with a local charity for older people back home months later.

I am glad to see that the company I work for strive to combat ageism, but it is a widespread problem, and one that needs to be tackled by society as a whole, rather than specific charities. Since becoming more aware about the issues, I have noticed it happening more in everyday life, and was ashamed to notice myself doing it recently when with my nan, who was asked a question and I butted in to answer it on her behalf.

Ageism is a real problem, and something that doesn’t seem to be highlighted in the media as much as other forms of discrimination. I am working on understanding the problem myself right now, but I hope to be able to spread awareness further in the future.

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