6 ageist stereotypes that can get in the bin

It's time to challenge the ageist stereotypes that persist. Contrary to popular belief, Carolyn Tate writes that our older years can be a time of tremendous growth and fulfilment, a time ripe with opportunities for self-discovery, new adventures, and maintaining a sharp, active mind.

By Carolyn Tate

Are stale myths and ageist stereotypes getting you down? Everywhere you turn there seems to be someone who thinks your capabilities decline as you age, but the reality is our ‘second act’ can be a rewarding time for self-growth, new adventures, and sharp minds.

And we don’t need to look far to find plenty of examples of people debunking these ageist stereotypes, or research that flies in the face of a gloomy narrative around ageing. 

Let’s take a look at a few ageist stereotypes that can get in the bin, like the rubbish they are: 

Ageist stereotype #1: Cognitive decline is inevitable

Rubbish! Researchers at Harvard University say that cognitive slide is definitely not inevitable.

There are numerous studies that help paint a far more promising picture: cognitive functions can maintain their vigour almost indefinitely, with many centenarians enjoying high levels of cognitive performance.

Exercise, eating a Mediterranean diet, moderating your alcohol intake, getting quality sleep, enjoying social interactions, and staying mentally engaged have been found to be the keys to staying mentally sharp.

Ageist stereotype #2: Your best years are behind you

Rubbish! Any era of your life can be ripe with self-discovery, new ventures, and a sense of freedom if you choose it. Here’s a primer on keeping the vibrancy alive:

  • New goals: Whether it's achieving a fitness milestone or mastering a new skill, the pursuit of fresh objectives keeps the spark alive.
  • Find your people: Engage with communities that resonate with your zeal – be it for fitness, art, or spirited activism.
  • Micro-adventures: They’re a balm to the routine! Discover a new trail, indulge in a new cuisine, or uncover your city’s hidden historical gems.
  • Initiate a project: Be it a DIY renovation endeavour or a community initiative, working towards a rewarding outcome can be exhilarating.

Ageist stereotype #3: You become a burden to your family

Rubbish! In a survey by Meaningful Ageing Australia, the dread of being a family burden ranked high.

But the reality is that ageing does not automatically make you a burden, and family bonds are rooted in mutual care. Many adults remain active, providing invaluable support in their families and communities. 

Consider flipping the perspective: if a loved one needed your help, wouldn’t you gladly provide it? The same applies in reverse. This mental shift can alleviate fears, emphasising that love and support within a family is a two-way street.

Ageist stereotype #4: You can't learn anything new

Rubbish! Lifelong learning can and should be a reality. Whether it's exploring digital worlds, mastering a new language, or strumming a guitar, age is no barrier to the brain's ability to learn.

And there's a wealth of opportunities to fuel your curiosity. The University of the Third Age (U3A), offering courses tailored for over 55s, is a great example. 

Phillip Beard, a U3A student from Townsville, is relishing his French classes. He shared with ABC the far-reaching benefits, saying, "The University of the Third Age has been fantastic and has offered a lot of things that you probably thought to yourself, 'wouldn't it be nice if...?' Now, it's a reality. It's about discovering the courses and jumping in." 

Ageist stereotype #5: You get unhappier as you get older

Rubbish! Your 50s and beyond can actually be some of your happiest chapters.

A phenomenon known as the "age-related positivity effect” has found we tend to gravitate towards positive vibes and steer clear of the gloom as we age.

Perhaps this seasoned perspective supports why more than two-thirds of Australians feel more content with their life now than when they were younger, according to the Ageing Perceptions report.

Ageist stereotype #6: You're not valuable to society

Rubbish! This notion is far from the truth. Your lifetime of experiences enriches both your family and the wider community.

Consider Terry O’Callaghan who shared his story with the Sydney Morning Herald. After retiring from a dairy industry career to care for his wife, Terry consulted, taught technology to seniors at the University of the Third Age, and offered superannuation advice.  

Terry, and others like him, show that retirement can mark the beginning of new avenues for meaningful engagement and giving back, rather than being an end.

So next time you hear some tired ageist stereotype being thrown around, consider how outdated and wrong it actually is. It’s time we throw these stale ideas in the bin. Let the inspiring lives of others and an abundance of research be a guiding light for the promising years ahead.



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