Confronting ageism in society and in medicine: What can be done?

Peta Cook

Ageism – prejudice based in a set of ideas, attitudes and beliefs regarding chronological age and the ageing process – is commonly experienced by older adults. These experiences additionally emerge from negative social myths about older age which include standardised judgements on personality, cognitive function, levels of social connections and integration, and physical appearance and performance. Such myths are evidenced throughout society, including healthcare provision. These can be potentially challenged through intergenerational programs, which bring younger and older generations together. Evaluations of such programs, however, have been limited. In addition, visual research methods have the potential to challenge ageism by supporting older adults to represent and document their own lives and ageing. Translating such work beyond academia, and beyond individual projects, has, however, been limited.

In this presentation, I will examine the subtle – and not so subtle – ways in which ageism manifests in society and in medicine. I will also explore how my visual research project with older people, Reclaiming the Self, has been taken up in non-academic contexts, discussing both the productive and challenging aspects of undertaking such community outreach.

Dr Peta Cook is a Senior Lecturer in Sociology in the School of Social Sciences, University of Tasmania. Her current research has been analysing the issues that face older people in contemporary Australian society and lifting the social veil that has fallen over their lives, spanning from how cancer in older adults is treated to how ageing is perceived and experienced by older adults. Currently, she is collaborating with Clarence City Council (Tasmania) on an intergenerational project that brings younger and older people together.

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