“Ageism is about older people”.

When you do a search on the word “ageism”, this definition comes up: “prejudice or discrimination on the grounds of a person’s age.” What follows is a series of articles about the impact of ageism on older people. There are different angles – how ageism affects the mental and physical health of older people, age discrimination against older people in hiring, ageism in media, etc. These are all very big and real issues.

In previous blogs, we’ve talked about how ageism impacts other ages and how age segregation diminishes our communities. “Prejudice or discrimination on the grounds of a person’s age” happens to people at every age. It happens every time we act based on stereotypes, instead of relating to each other as unique individuals.

You do not have to be an older person, though, to be impacted by ageism specifically against older people. It impacts us all, particularly when it comes to our systems and policies.

“Older people” issues are really every person issues

Consider policies that impact older Americans. Rarely do these only affect older people.

Caregiving – Policies impacting caregivers affect people of all ages. Caregivers range from the young to the old and may also be caring for people of all ages. “Approximately 43.5 million caregivers have provided unpaid care to an adult or child in the last 12 months.” Almost half of these caregivers are between 18-49 and about a third are over 65.

Care from grandparents – This a growing subset of caregiving. Grandparents are increasingly helping care for grandchildren. Policy that impacts this will impact multiple generations: kids, parents, and grandparents.

To retire or not – Policies that impact when and if people retire impact the whole of society. There are economic effects from whether people are incentivized to retire or to stay working. We can gain both from better systems for those need or chose to retire, as well as from being able to maintain the valuable contributions of those who want to and can work.

Housing – Housing costs are rising for everyone and this impacts a range of people with limited or fixed incomes and it affects their families. Most people want to age in place, but affordability and accessibility can be big issues. Ultimately, a lack of housing will impact everyone as society finds ways to solve this issue.

We have a new paradigm

Policy that ignores the needs of older adults impacts more than older adults. It is particularly short-sighted in the face of how our population is changing.

Our population is changing in complex ways. People like to cite the “silver tsunami” as if it is a crisis. Our shifting demographics are not a crisis, but a new paradigm – one that impacts everyone. It is important that we do not let ageism blind us to that, relegating some issues as pertaining only to older people.

It is not accurate or useful to consider the whole group of older adults as frail or as a burden. The new paradigm is not that simple. We may have more people who need care, but also more people who are healthy and are providing care. There may be more people in retirement, but also more people available to work and to volunteer. How we respond to this new paradigm will affect us all.

It is time to re-think of how we view our aging population, as well as how we view policies that impact older adults. We need new policies that make the best of this new paradigm. This will not just benefit older adults; this will benefit us all.

Want to join the conversation? Sign up to join or host an intergenerational conversation. Our campaign, on the same pAge, is happening October 25-November 3, 2019.

Sara Breindel, Changing the Narrative blogger